Infection with adenovirus, a common childhood virus, is the main hypothesis behind recent cases of severe hepatitis of unknown origin in children that have resulted in at least six deaths, U.S. health officials said Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it is continuing to investigate whether 180 cases identified in 36 states and territories since last October represent an increase in the rate of pediatric hepatitis or whether an existing pattern has been revealed. through improved detection.
In April, the agency issued a nationwide alert for doctors to be on the lookout for children with hepatitis, which can damage the liver and lead to liver failure.
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Dr. Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, said on a conference call that about half of children diagnosed in recent months were also infected with some type of adenovirus, a virus that causes the common cold, but the agency is still investigating the exact cause of the illness.
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“Evidence is mounting that there is a role for adenovirus, particularly adenovirus-41,” he said.
Butler said one theory is that pandemic mitigation measures may have limited exposure to the adenovirus, leading to a “catch-up” of infections as social distancing and other efforts were eased.
Hepatitis related to this type of adenovirus has been almost exclusively associated with immunocompromised children, but many cases first reported to the CDC did not have such conditions.
The CDC is also investigating whether COVID infection may play a role, along with other pathogens, drugs, and risk factors.
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Compared to pre-pandemic rates, the agency said it had not seen an overall increase in the incidence of severe hepatitis in children, which remains rare with around 1,500 to 2,000 cases identified. in a typical year.
CDC officials said they continue to work with their counterparts in Europe, particularly in the UK, which has identified at least 175 cases of acute hepatitis in children.
(Reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Aurora Ellis)
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