The CDC is currently investigating 180 cases of children with acute hepatitis of unknown cause.

The headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.

Tami Chappell | Reuters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently investigating 180 cases of children who suddenly developed severe hepatitis in 36 states and territories, an increase of 71 cases since the public health agency’s last update at the start of the month.

The CDC, in a statement Wednesday, said the vast majority are not new cases of hepatitis. On the contrary, the number of patients under investigation has increased as the agency takes a closer look at data dating back to October last year.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is usually caused by the hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E viruses. The cases the CDC is investigating are unusual because children have not tested positive for these virus and they suffered severe symptoms, with 9% requiring liver transplants, which is rare.

The CDC has found at least five deaths, although no deaths have been reported since February. Adenovirus infection is being investigated as the possible cause, with nearly half of children testing positive for the pathogen. Adenovirus is a common virus that normally causes cold or flu symptoms. It is not a known cause of hepatitis in otherwise healthy children.

The CDC is also doing lab tests to see if the Covid virus could also be a possible cause, although the children in the original group in Alabama did not have the coronavirus.

The UK first alerted the World Health Organization to severe cases of hepatitis in children last month. The UK Health Security Agency, in an update last week, said adenovirus is the most common virus detected in samples tested there. The country has recorded 176 cases as of May 10.

The CDC said severe hepatitis in children remains rare, but told parents to be on the lookout for symptoms such as jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin or eyes.

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