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CDC warns of mysterious hepatitis outbreak in children; no Utah cases

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Apr 22, 2022

Ron Harris, Associated Press

A sign at the entrance to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seen Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Atlanta.

A mysterious illness in children has health officials investigating several cases across the United States and United Kingdom, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a public health alert on Thursday.

So far, nine cases of hepatitis, or liver inflammation with no known cause, have been detected in Alabama in children under the age of 6. All nine were hospitalized between October 2021 and February 2022. Two of the children required liver transplants. All of the children were previously healthy, according to the CDC. The U.K. has reported 74 cases of the illness, with six requiring a liver transplant.

None of Utah’s children have been infected so far.

“We’re in the early days and right now it doesn’t appear to be widespread, but the whole purpose of the alert today was to increase the awareness to see if there are any other clusters around the country,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah and director of epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Medical Center.

The health alert is asking doctors and other health care providers to be on the lookout for children under the age of 10 who have been diagnosed with hepatitis of an unknown cause since October 2021.

“The picture is really unclear, but the main leading suspect right now is the adenovirus, which causes colds, pneumonia and severe diarrhea, but it doesn’t normally cause hepatitis except in people who are immunocompromised,” Pavia said.

Pavia also said as of right now, there is no link to COVID-19.

The most common types of hepatitis are A, B and C viruses. However, Pavia said those have been ruled out in all of the children.

Hepatitis can be caused by viral infections or other things such as toxins, alcohol and various medical conditions. Symptoms include severe loss of appetite, jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes, vomiting, dark urine, and joint and abdominal pain. Pavia said the treatment is supportive care.

“At the moment, it doesn’t seem to pose much of a threat to children in the U.S., but we need to learn more. Right now, we can’t make any predictions,” Pavia said. “But with any new infectious disease, we have to track it very carefully.”

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