A recent outbreak of liver illness in children in the United States and Europe has health officials investigating what may be causing it. Although they believe it may be linked to a virus usually associated with colds, the disease remains a mystery. Here's what we know so far.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 74 cases of children with hepatitis, or liver inflammation, are currently being investigated in the U.K. alone. However, other European countries are reporting similar cases, including some in Spain and a few in Ireland. Meanwhile, nine cases have been found in the USA so far, all in the state of Alabama. “Given the increase in cases reported over the past one month and enhanced case search activities, more cases are likely to be reported in the coming days,” WHO officials said in a statement.
The mysterious disease was first brought to the WHO's attention in early April after nine children were infected the previous month. Severely ill children were hospitalized and diagnosed with hepatitis shortly after. Since then, British health officials have reported at least 64 new infections, of which six patients needed liver transplants. Health professionals who conducted laboratory testing have ruled out the possibility of hepatitis type A, B, C, and E viruses causing the illness. However, they did notice that a rise in the spread of adenoviruses that may explain the infections.
Although adenoviruses have been associated with hepatitis in the past, they have mostly been linked to the disease in children with weakened immune systems. “At this time, adenovirus may be the cause for these, but investigators are still learning more — including ruling out the more common causes of hepatitis,” the CDC said in a statement. Of the dozens of types of adenoviruses, many are related to diseases with cold-like symptoms, fever, sore throat, and pink eye. But some can also cause other problems, including inflammation in the stomach and intestines. A few of the diagnosed children in Europe tested positive for adenovirus, and others tested positive for COVID-19. But according to the WHO, more research needs to be done to discover possible associations with specific versions of the virus. Although the cause behind the outbreak remains a mystery, health officials are hoping for more information as investigations of the illness continue. Stay tuned.