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Mysterious hepatitis cases in kids keep climbing as scientists search for a cause

Daniel Chang, Miami Herald on

Published in Health & Fitness

MIAMI — No unusual cases of severe hepatitis among children have been confirmed in Florida despite a global rise in cases and an ongoing investigation into what’s causing the outbreak, which has affected more than 500 kids worldwide, including more than 150 in the United States.

Doctors and public health officials in South Florida and elsewhere have been on alert for unusual hepatitis cases without a known cause since an April 21 advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified them of a cluster of severe cases in Alabama among previously healthy children dating back to October.

Since then the global count, including retrospective cases that are not new, has grown to at least 500 children in 20 countries, including 180 pediatric patients in the United States over the past seven months, an increase of 71 cases over the number reported two weeks ago, the CDC said on Wednesday.

Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for the Florida Department of Health, said state officials have been on the lookout for potential cases but that none have been confirmed to date.

“The Bureau of Epidemiology continues to monitor and will investigate any suspected cases that are reported to the Department of Health,” Redfern said in an email.

However, the CDC said on Wednesday that Florida has reported at least one person younger than 10 under investigation for severe hepatitis with unknown cause, though it may not be a recent case.

 

The CDC said it is investigating cases in 36 states and territories. Though most children have recovered, at least 5 kids have died and 16 needed a liver transplant.

Nearly half of the children identified by the CDC also have tested positive for adenovirus, a common bug among kids that usually causes severe stomach illness and pink eye. CDC officials are casting a wide net as they search for a cause but on Wednesday the agency said that adenovirus infection “continues to be a strong lead.”

Taking more precautions with patients

The agency has advised doctors to take extra steps when treating patients with unusual cases of severe hepatitis, such as testing for adenovirus infection and collecting blood, respiratory and stool samples.

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