Pandemic links to kids’ liver ailment eyed in U.K. probe

Health authorities are investigating potential links between the pandemic and an outbreak of mysterious, acute hepatitis that’s sickened children in the U.K., the U.S. and other countries.

The U.K. has detected adenovirus, a family of pathogens that cause a range of illnesses including the common cold, in three-quarters of the cases of the liver-inflaming disease, officials said Monday. Now they’re studying whether a lack of prior exposure to adenoviruses during pandemic restrictions or a previous infection with SARS-CoV-2 or another virus may be related.

The researchers analyzed 111 cases found in the U.K. as of April 20, the government said, including 81 in England. Ten of the patients have undergone liver transplants. The U.K. hasn’t reported any deaths, and a small number of children older than age 10 are being investigated, according to an emailed statement.

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The investigation “increasingly suggests that this rise in sudden onset hepatitis in children is linked to adenovirus infection,” Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at the U.K. Health Security Agency, said in the statement. “However, we are thoroughly investigating other potential causes.”

No connection has been observed among the cases themselves or to travel, Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said Tuesday in a press conference. The organization is set to publish a rapid risk assessment on Thursday. Ammon said she couldn’t provide case numbers.

The World Health Organization was notified on April 5 of 10 cases across central Scotland among previously healthy children with diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and jaundice, a liver-linked ailment. Three days later, 74 cases had been identified in the U.K.

As of April 21, the U.K. cases had been followed by 13 in Spain, 12 in Israel, nine in the U.S. and 21 more scattered among Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway, France, Romania and Belgium.

Symptoms include liver inflammation, with markedly high liver enzymes, and jaundice preceded by abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Common viruses that cause acute hepatitis haven’t been detected in any of the cases, WHO said.

Of samples that underwent molecular testing, 18 were identified as adenovirus F type 41, the WHO said. Nineteen children were found to be simultaneously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and adenovirus.

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