Sixth Child in US Dies of Unexplained Hepatitis; global cases top 600

Enlarge / Liver lesions in a patient with chronic active hepatitis C.

A sixth child has died in the United States from a puzzling inflammation of the liver, also known as hepatitis, and the number of unexplained cases has risen to 180 in 36 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest death was announced at a news conference on Friday, led by CDC Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases Jay Butler, who said it was reported to the agency on Thursday. He did not indicate in what state the death occurred.

In addition to deaths, 15 of the 180 cases required liver transplants, Butler reported. All cases occurred in children under 10 years of age, but skewed to preschool children, with a median age of around 2 years.

The latest US counts fuel a global phenomenon that now includes more than 600 cases in 31 countries, including 15 deaths. But despite the growing numbers, international health experts are still struggling to understand what’s behind the diseases after weeding out the most obvious possibilities, like hepatitis A, B, C, D and E viruses.

misleading numbers

At today’s briefing, Butler was cautious in noting that while the latest total of 180 cases may seem like a worrying increase from the 109 cases reported by the CDC two weeks ago, most of the 71 new cases reported were identified retrospectively. and they actually happened weeks or months ago. . In fact, only 7 percent of the 180 cases occurred in the last two weeks, Butler said.

He was also careful to avoid saying the cases were part of an outbreak, noting that the agency is not detecting an overall increase in the number of unexplained hepatitis cases it typically sees. And the 180 cases from the last seven months have not been grouped geographically or by time. They have been spread somewhat evenly across the 36 states, and month-over-month case totals have been generally flat, Butler reported.

Although pediatric hepatitis cases are not monitored nationally, the CDC estimates there are between 1,500 and 2,000 cases each year, according to Umesh Parashar, chief of the CDC’s Division of Viral Gastroenteritis, who also spoke at the briefing. Butler added that 30 percent to 50 percent of those pediatric hepatitis cases go unexplained each year. Therefore, the 180 unexplained cases over a seven-month period do not set off statistical alarm bells.

It’s possible, Butler speculated, that the cases now being highlighted have always been there and simply weren’t previously identified or analyzed.

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