CDC investigates unexplained hepatitis in children, including one in AZ

Published: Wednesday, May 11, 2022 - 3:46pm
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking into one case of acute hepatitis in a child from Arizona as part of a larger investigation into recent unexplained pediatric hepatitis cases across the country.

The CDC reports at least 109 children in 24 states and Puerto Rico have been diagnosed with acute hepatitis of unknown origin in the past seven months. The children have been under the age of 6 with a median age of 2 years. All were previously healthy. 90% of the children had to be hospitalized, more than a dozen needed liver transplants, and five have died. Similar cases have been reported in Europe. 

The case under investigation in Arizona involves a child in Pima County, though the state health department has not provided any more details to protect the patient’s privacy.

"It fits within the parameters," said Carla Berg, deputy director of health services with the Arizona Department of Health Services. She added that the state continues to be on the lookout for similar cases. “Our public health experts are aware of the situation, and we are monitoring this very closely. We are in close communication with the CDC as well as our local partners.” 

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. It has several causes, but so far, investigators are unsure what has led to the string of recent cases. 

"Investigators both here in abroad and around the globe are working hard to determine the cause," Dr. Jay Butler, CDC deputy director for infectious diseases, told reporters Friday.

More than half of the children in the cases under investigation also had an adenovirus infection, according to the CDC. Adenoviruses are common viruses that can cause respiratory or gastrointestinal infections. 

"Adenovirus has been detected in some of the children, but we don't know if it is the actual cause of these illnesses," Butler said. 

Butler said hepatitis in children is still very rare and much is still unknown about potential increase in cases across the U.S. But the CDC recommends parents help children avoid germs through everyday hygiene practices such as hand washing and avoiding contact with people who are sick. Parents and caregivers should seek medical attention for children showing signs of hepatitis, including vomiting, jaundice and dark urine.

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