An outbreak of severe hepatitis in children has continued to spread across the U.S. in recent weeks, with Illinois and 24 other states reporting a total of 109 cases, including five deaths, according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that is often caused by viral infections, is not uncommon in children, but usually isn't severe. More than half of the children who recently contracted a severe case of hepatitis also had a confirmed adenovirus infection. However, public health officials haven't determined if adenovirus is the actual cause.
Of the affected children, more than 90% were hospitalized and at least 14% required liver transplants, according to the CDC. The agency has not documented a significant increase in hepatitis cases in kids or liver transplants, but that’s based on preliminary data and could change, according to Dr. Jay Butler, the CDC's deputy director for infectious diseases.
The U.S. also has not seen an uptick in adenovirus infections nationally, according to Butler. However, Dr. Umesh Parashar, another CDC official, said the U.S. does not have a good national system for conducting surveillance of the virus.
In Illinois, the state's department of public health revealed three suspected cases of severe hepatitis had been reported as of late April. The three children who came down with the illness were all under the age of 10, and one required a liver transplant.
Cases have also been reported in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
The symptoms of hepatitis include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice.
Adenoviruses can cause a wide range of illnesses and symptoms, and are spread person-to-person. Most commonly those infected with the virus experience respiratory illness, but gastroenteritis, conjunctivitis (pink eye) and bladder infections can also occur.
Parents and caregivers are being asked to contact health care providers with any concerns, and to encourage their children to take everyday preventative actions including washing hands often, avoiding people who are sick, and covering coughs or sneezes.