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CDC investigating 109 mystery cases of hepatitis in children, including 5 deaths

CDC probes spread of hepatitis in children
CDC probes spread of hepatitis in children 00:30

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating 109 childhood cases of a mysterious form of hepatitis, including five reported deaths, the agency said Friday.

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

Ninety percent of the cases have involved hospitalization, with 14% requiring liver transplants. The majority fully recovered.

The CDC issued a health alert last month notifying doctors and public health authorities to be on the lookout for similar cases, and began examining case histories extending back to October 1, 2021.

More than half the cases tested positive for adenovirus 41 — a virus normally associated with gastroenteritis, but not hepatitis in otherwise healthy children.

"Because of the link to adenovirus, I would call that top of the list of viruses of interest," said Butler.

"But we don't know if it is adenovirus itself that is causing the cases, or is there an immune reaction to this particular strain of adenovirus."

Environmental factors are also being examined — such as the presence of animals in the house, as well as whether other pathogens, such as COVID-19, may have played a role.

Adenovirus cases might also be rebounding after COVID lockdowns stopped the spread for a few years, or the adenovirus might have evolved into a newer, more dangerous strain.

But the CDC has said it doesn't believe COVID vaccinations are to blame.

Nine cases in Alabama that were investigated in depth were among children with a median age of two years old, too young for COVID vaccination.

On Thursday, North Dakota became the latest in a growing number of states that is investigating the mysterious disease. The child from Grand Forks County is recovering at home after a brief stay in the hospital, North Dakota Health Department officials said.

The cases have no known connection, although a link with a virus that can cause colds is being investigated. Several cases have been reported in Minnesota.

More than two dozen cases have been reported across the country, including at least four in Wisconsin last month. One child in Wisconsin needed a liver transplant, and another died.

Symptoms may include cold-like symptoms, fever, sore throat, pneumonia, diarrhea or pink eye.

Last week, three children in Indonesia died from the disease.  

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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