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The US CDC is warning of mysterious hepatitis in kids, which has seen 8 UK liver transplants

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Ariel Skelley/Getty Images
Ariel Skelley/Getty Images
  • A mysterious and dangerous kind of liver inflammation is spreading in the US.
  • So far, at least 9 cases have been diagnosed — all in Arkansas — but others like them have been documented in the UK and Europe.
  • Scientists think an adenovirus, which spreads from person to person through the air, may be the culprit.
  • Eight children in the UK have received liver transplants, and 108 cases are under investigation.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

A dangerous, liver-compromising virus appears to be spreading among kids in the US, after cases in Europe and the United Kingdom.

On Thursday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to healthcare providers, warning that a "cluster" of at least nine unusual paediatric hepatitis cases have been spotted in Alabama in recent months, and there could be more out there nationwide. The CDC said these cases of liver inflammation appear to have been caused by an adenovirus, not Covid-19.

The first US cases were identified in October 2021 at a "large children's hospital" in Alabama, the CDC said. By November, five of the patients there had suffered "significant" liver injury, and three of them had acute liver failure. Two patients required liver transplants, though none died. 

Similar cases were reported in the UK earlier this month, and the World Health Organisation said last week that there have been others spotted in Spain and Ireland. The CDC told Stat last week that the US cases are in kids ranging in age from 1 to 6 years old, and the Alabama health department said in a release on April 14 that the children infected were all under 10 years old. 

A respiratory adenovirus at work? 

The culprit behind the cases of liver inflammation seems to be a pathogen called adenovirus 41, a virus that spreads (like the coronavirus does) through close contact, and respiratory excretions, as well as stool, making hand-washing important.

The children with this hepatitis were all previously healthy, and did not have Covid-19, the health agency said. That is puzzling, because adenovirus 41 typically only infects immunocompromised children, and is "not known to be a cause of hepatitis in otherwise healthy children," according to the CDC. There is no treatment for the illness. 

Adenovirus 41 often causes paediatric acute gastroenteritis, with symptoms including:

  • diarrhoea,
  • vomiting,
  • fever,
  • as well as respiratory symptoms.

For now, the CDC is recommending that medical providers test kids with unusual, inexplicable hepatitis cases for the adenovirus, using PCR tests. 

In the UK, authorities are investigating 108 cases of sudden liver inflammation in children, and eight children have received liver transplants. 

European authorities have not said how many children have been affected there, but cases have been found in Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland.

Guardians in the UK have been told to watch for jaundice (a yellow tinge to eyes and skin), as well as dark urine, itchy skin, muscle pain, and loss of appetite.

The UK Health Security Agency said while it had not ruled out causes such as an environmental trigger or Covid-19, there was no link to the Covid-19 vaccine, because none of the children involved had received it.

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