Another child has died in the US from a mysterious hepatitis outbreak
Another child has died in the mysterious hepatitis outbreak, health officials revealed on Friday, bringing the national tally to six.
The deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed the death at a news conference on Friday, saying it was reported a day after the agency updated its case count.
Dr. Jay Butler did not disclose where the death occurred or the age of the boy who died of hepatitis.
The United States has reported the most deaths of any nation so far, with Indonesia reporting five and one each in Palestine and Ireland.
A total of 180 cases of hepatitis have also been detected in 35 states, with the disease more likely to be detected in more populated areas. There have also been 15 liver transplants.
Globally, more than 500 cases have been detected in the outbreak, mostly in the UK and the US, likely because both countries have better surveillance systems.
Scientists are puzzled as to the cause behind the spate of cases, but the leading theory is an adenovirus infection, which can cause the common cold.
Others include a previous Covid infection or weakened immunity due to lockdowns leaving children at risk of the disease.
All usual causes, hepatitis A, B, C, D and E viruses have been ruled out.
Dr. Butler told the briefing that one additional death was reported Thursday, which was the sixth case with a fatal outcome.
He said: “That case was reported yesterday, so it does not appear in the weekly report published on Wednesday.”
The CDC has not said where the deaths occurred, citing “confidentiality issues,” although one was reported in Wisconsin.
The cases continue to be in children around two years old and “geographically dispersed” throughout the country.
They are more likely in more populous states, which is probably because there is a larger susceptible population there.
But the CDC added that the vast majority of case reports it was receiving were “historic,” with very few occurring in the last month or so.
British experts say the rush of cases in their country, which was the first to detect the outbreak, appears to have “peaked”.
But scientists say cases are likely to continue to show up through the summer because adenovirus transmission is not seasonal.
Wednesday’s update revealed that 11 other states had detected the disease, including: Arkansas, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Virginia.
Previously a total of 24 states had detected the virus, which were: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska , New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Puerto Rico has also reported at least one case of the disease.
Dr. Butler told the conference that the CDC still considered adenovirus infection to be the most likely cause of the cases.
However, he was also looking into the role of Covid, noting that the rush of cases comes around two years into the pandemic.
Around a fifth of cases were found to have an “exposure” to the pandemic virus, which was similar to the UK findings. Tests are underway to establish how many young people have antibodies from a previous infection.
Officials say it is “much less likely” that a mutation in the adenovirus has triggered the cases, after discovering that patients can be infected with different strains of type 41.
They are also not seriously considering the suggestion that domestic dogs could be to blame in the cases following an investigation by health officials in the UK.
British experts had raised this as a possibility two weeks ago after discovering that a “high number” of sick children came from families that had dogs or were “exposed to dogs”.
However, canines have now been ‘kicked’ off the list of possible culprits there after scientists found ‘nothing to indicate’ they are involved.
This is breaking news. More follows.
Q&A: What is the mysterious global hepatitis outbreak and what’s behind it?
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that is usually caused by a viral infection or liver damage from drinking alcohol.
Some cases resolve on their own, with no ongoing problems, but a fraction can be fatal, forcing patients to need liver transplants to survive.
What are the symptoms?
People who have hepatitis usually have fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, and joint pain.
They may also suffer from jaundice, when the skin and the whites of the eyes turn yellow.
Why do the experts care?
Hepatitis is usually rare in children, but experts have already detected more cases in the current outbreak than would normally be expected in a year.
The cases are of “unknown origin” and are also serious, according to the World Health Organization.
What are the main theories?
Experts say the cases may be linked to the adenovirus, commonly associated with colds, but further investigation is underway.
This, in combination with covid infections, could be causing the rise in cases.
Around three-quarters of British cases have tested positive for the virus.
British experts tasked with investigating the onslaught of disease believe the endless cycle of lockdowns may have contributed.
The restrictions may have weakened children’s immunity due to reduced social mixing, leaving them at higher risk of contracting adenoviruses.
This means that even ‘normal’ adenovirus could be causing serious outcomes, because children are not responding as they did in the past.
Other scientists said it may have been the adenovirus that acquired “unusual mutations.”
This would mean that it could be more transmissible or more able to circumvent the natural immunity of children.
New Covid variant
UKHSA officials included ‘a new variant of SARS-CoV-2’ in their working hypotheses.
Covid has caused liver inflammation in very rare cases during the pandemic, although these have been in all ages rather than isolated in children.
The CDC has noted that environmental triggers are still being investigated as possible causes of the illnesses.
These could include contamination or exposure to particular drugs or toxins.