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International health officials investigate unexplained increase in severe liver infection among children

Cases of severe liver infection are on the rise among children throughout the world, the World Health Organization announced Friday. No deaths have been reported among the identified cases, but the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating.

The WHO said it was notified on April 5 of 10 severe acute hepatitis cases in children under the age of 10 in central Scotland. There was no known cause. Three days later, the number of cases in children in the United Kingdom jumped to 74. Three confirmed cases have also been reported in children aged 22 months to 13 years old in Spain, and less than five cases have been reported in Ireland.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the state of Alabama has reported nine cases of hepatitis in children between 1 and 6 years old without a known cause since October 2021, according to the CDC. These children, as well as some of the European kids, also tested positive for adenovirus, which are a common type of virus spread between people. While it can cause a range of mild to severe illnesses, the virus rarely causes severe hepatitis in healthy people, the CDC said.

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver, often caused by a virus, which can affect its ability to process nutrients and filter the blood, according to the CDC.

Children reported symptoms associated with the illness, including jaundice, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain, according to the WHO.

Some of the cases have required the diagnosed children to be transferred to children's liver specialist units, and six have required a liver transplant, the WHO said. 

Considering the rise in cases over the past month, the agency forecasts that more will be reported in the coming days. 

The CDC and WHO said they are investigating, and are considering adenovirus as well as COVID-19 in the pathogenesis as early hypotheses. 

"It's important to note that not all diseases are reported at the state or national level – and in these cases, CDC utilizes different methods of surveillance, including close collaboration with clinicians and health departments to identify and detect unusual patterns or clusters of illness," CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund told CBS News Friday. 

She said the agency recommends children be up to date on all vaccinations, stay active and have healthy eating habits. 

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