Four children in New Jersey who developed acute hepatitis between October and February have become part of a widening federal investigation into an outbreak of liver inflammation with no apparent cause. The New Jersey children all survived, and none required a liver transplant.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday, it was investigating 180 reports of the unexplained hepatitis from 36 states, an increase of 71 cases since May 5.
The additional reports do not mean the children became ill recently, but reflect the work of doctors and state health officials to review hepatitis cases dating back to October for potential links to the outbreak, the agency said.
The New Jersey patients ranged in age from under 1 to 7 years old, said Donna Leusner, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department. They were hospitalized between October and February, and all recovered. All tested negative for COVID.
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Doctors and other health providers in New Jersey were asked via an alert last month “to monitor for suspect cases of hepatitis of unknown origin” and report them to the department. After receiving the data from the state, the CDC analyzed each case to see if it met the criteria to be included in the federal investigation.
Testing has ruled out some of the viruses that commonly cause hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, the CDC’s statement said. Among other possible causes being examined, adenovirus remains a strong contender. It has been detected in nearly half of the children, the CDC said.
“Further laboratory tests are being conducted to look more closely at the virus genome and other potential pathogens,” such as the virus that causes COVID, the agency said. Adenovirus does not typically cause such severe liver disease, and it is usually associated with respiratory symptoms.
No deaths have been reported among pediatric patients with the unexplained hepatitis since February, the CDC said. Over the last two weeks, the proportion of patients requiring liver transplants has dropped from 15% to 9%.
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On May 6, the CDC reported five deaths among the 109 cases it was investigating of hepatitis of unknown origin in children. More than 90% of those patients had been hospitalized, and 4% received liver transplants.
“It’s important to note that severe hepatitis in children remains rare,” the CDC statement said.
The agency encourages parents and caregivers to know the symptoms of hepatitis — especially jaundice, a yellowing of the skin or eyes — and to contact their child’s health practitioner with any concerns.
Reports of the mysterious outbreak first surfaced last month in the United Kingdom. Since then, more cases have been reported in Spain, Israel, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway, France, Romania and Belgium, according to the World Health Organization.
Of the 348 probable cases in 21 countries, 26 children required liver transplants, according to the Pan-American Health Organization.
Lindy Washburn is a senior health care reporter for NorthJersey.com. To keep up-to-date about how changes in health care affect you and your family, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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