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‘Hepatitis of unknown cause’ reported in 39 states, including six cases under investigation in Kentucky

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Cases of an unusual type of hepatitis that appears to only affect children are being investigated by both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as state health departments.

As of Thursday, 274 cases of what is described as “Hepatitis of unknown cause” had been reported in 39 states, with six under investigation in Kentucky, according to State Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack.

“It’s not unusual for some causes of hepatitis in children to remain unknown,” he said, “and it’s not yet clear whether there has been an increase in the overall number of children who are getting hepatitis. But there were reports of unusual cases of liver inflammation in children that started in Europe and the United Kingdom, late last year.”

Dr. Steven Stack says the helath department is investigating six cases in Kentucky of the unknown hepatitis. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

Stack pointed out that the World Health Organization has also reported such inflammation of the liver in at least 20 countries, and that the six cases being investigated in Kentucky are in children ranging from eight months to four years of age.

While the cause remains unknown, some have been ruled out, Stack said. “They have excluded common causes of hepatitis. There’s Hepatitis A through E, a variety of viral hepatitis infections. They’ve also not found any link with autoimmune hepatitis, or with COVID-19. There is also no relation to the COVID-19 vaccine, which is important to note, as many of these children have been below the age where they were eligible to receive a COVID vaccine.”

He added, there is a potential link to adenovirus 41. “Adenoviruses are quite common. These are like the common cold. They are not typically known to cause liver inflammation in healthy children, and all of these children so far who have had this inflammation of unknown origin have been children who were previously healthy.”

On Friday, Louisville Metro Public Health & Wellness reported they are investigating two potential cases.

Dr. Jeff Howard, the interim health department director, medical director and chief health strategist for Louisville, said he advises parents to, “look out for symptoms including fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice (yellowing of the skin). If your child displays the listed symptoms reach out to their health care provider.”

He added, “To help prevent your child from becoming sick make sure they are up to date on all their vaccinations, wash their hands often with soap and water, avoid people who are sick and avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. If your child is sick keep them away from others, teach them to cover their coughs and sneezes and seek medical attention if you are concerned about their health.

To learn more about the ongoing investigation of hepatitis of unknown cause, visit the CDC’s website.

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