Just when you are thinking things are once again becoming normal after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is rallying physicians across the country to be looking for unusual cases of liver disease among children. The federal agency released a health advisory just this week.
Right now, nine cases have been reported in Alabama and there have been two reported in North Carolina, according to state health departments.
Adding to the tension, there have been dozens of cases identified in nations like the United Kingdom, Denmark, Spain, and the Netherlands. This is according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The exact disease in the liver is Hepatitis, which means there is inflammation in the liver. This can cause symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Some of the children who had this disease in Alabama developed jaundice and there were elevated liver enzymes in their blood. The disease became so critical in several children that they had to receive a liver transplant, but there have been no deaths reported.
The children who were suffering in America and Europe were between ages 1 through 6 and previous to this disease were healthy with no underlying conditions.
Bailey Pennington, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said that there has not been a common cause found and there are no common exposures that have been identified.
In the past, liver inflammation has been caused by hepatitis type A, B, C, D, and E viruses. When this kind of virus is discovered, all clinical labs in the United States are required by law to report it. This enables health authorities to make an effort to stop any outbreaks.
But in these cases with children, the usual hepatitis viruses have been ruled out.
Some have questioned whether COVID-19 or the vaccines given for COVID-19 could be the cause of the hepatitis cases. But investigators have said they have nothing to do with one another.
Dr. Karen Landers, a health officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said, “None of the children in the cluster tested positive for Covid-19 disease. None had previously reported Covid-19 disease. None of the children received Covid-19 vaccine.”
Some experts have been focusing on a virus not usually associated with hepatitis, adenovirus type 41. In the past, this virus caused vomiting and diarrhea in children, as well as respiratory symptoms like are found in the common cold. The CDC said in their alert that adenovirus type 41 is not known to be a cause of hepatitis in otherwise healthy children.
But five of the nine children in Alabama tested positive for the adenovirus type 41virus from October to February. That is why the CDC’s health advisory cautioned clinicians who dealt with children with hepatitis of unknown etiology “to consider adenovirus testing and to elicit reporting of such cases to state public health authorities and to CDC.”
One spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health said that why were following these cases very closely. And a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said that they were communicating with Colorado health care providers to share information and monitor possible cases in their state.
Dr. Christine Hahn, an Idaho state epidemiologist, said that her team is connecting with infectious disease physicians and pediatric gastroenterologists, but there were no cases reported yet. She said “Stay tuned.”
Let’s hope the diligence among each of the state health departments is enough to keep this liver disease from reaching a crisis point.