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Mystery Liver Disease Strikes More Kids

Signs parents, grandparents, caregivers shouldn’t ignore

spinner image parent holding a child's hand, child is in a hospital bed
orodenkoff / Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling on health care providers to test children for adenovirus, as an unusual hepatitis outbreak in children ages 1 to 6 continues to spread through the country. Based on the most recent data available, the CDC said 109 children have contracted hepatitis in 25 states and territories over the past seven months. Of the victims, 90 percent were hospitalized and five died. Fourteen patients required liver transplants. The cause is unknown but is not thought to be linked to COVID-19. ​

All the children were previously healthy, and they came from across the state. None tested positive for COVID-19. The CDC has yet to identify any connections between the patients and noted that it’s not uncommon for the cause of hepatitis to be unknown.  ​

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Is adenovirus the link? ​

European health officials also have reported an increasing number of severe hepatitis cases, cause unknown, among previously healthy children. The CDC is investigating a possible link between the pediatric hepatitis and adenovirus infection. The CDC said of the 109 U.S. cases, more than 50 percent had adenovirus.  Adenoviruses are a group of common viruses that cause several illnesses including cold-like symptoms, fever, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea and pink eye. People with weakened immune systems or existing respiratory or cardiac disease tend to get sicker from adenovirus infection than healthy individuals.

In Europe, some, but not all, of the children with hepatitis tested positive for adenovirus, the CDC said. Common causes of hepatitis — including viral infections, alcohol use, toxins, medications and certain other medical conditions — have been ruled out.

Telltale signs of liver problems​

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver and can be dangerous if left untreated. Signs that parents, grandparents and other caregivers should be on the lookout for include the following: ​

  • fever and fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea​
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • dark urine
  • light-colored stools
  • joint pain 
  • jaundice ​

The CDC is asking doctors and U.S. clinicians to test any pediatric patients with hepatitis of an unknown cause for adenovirus and to report cases to the agency and to public health authorities.

Donna Fuscaldo is a contributing writer and editor focusing on personal finance and health. She has spent over two decades writing and covering news for several national publications including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investopedia and HerMoney.

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