DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — Unexplained cases of severe liver disease in children are increasing in parts of Europe and Alabama.

Since November 2021, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), in collaboration with pediatric healthcare providers including hospitals that treat children and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been investigating an increase in hepatitis in young children.

Medical experts are still investigating a virus that caused nine Alabama children to suffer from severe liver damage, causing two to need a liver transplant.

According to Dr. Wes Stubblefield with the Alabama Department of Public Health, The children tested positive for adenovirus, a common virus that causes cold-like symptoms. Each of the Alabama children is younger than 6-years-old but each had similar symptoms.

“We don’t know why this particular type of the virus is causing this liver injury,” Dr. Stubblefield tells WDHN. “Although like I said there have only been a few cases, scattered out over a few months. We can’t really find a link between any of the cases, the cases have really been separated by distance and time.”

At this time, it’s unknown where in Alabama those children live. However, Alabama is the only state in the U.S. where children have been diagnosed with this mysterious virus. Each of the Alabama children tested positive for adenovirus but experts say the virus rarely causes severe hepatitis in healthy people.

Laboratory testing has ruled out the hepatitis type A, B, C, and E viruses that usually cause such illnesses. Officials say they are not aware of international travel or other factors that might have put the kids at risk.

According to experts, the liver processes nutrients filters the blood, and fights infections. The infections caused symptoms like jaundice, which causes the yellowing of the skin, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

“There is evidence of liver damage, which might include jaundice but could also be an elevation of what is called liver enzymes,” Dr. Stubblefield said. “Which are enzymes in the blood that are found in the liver that
could be released from liver injury.”

The United Kingdom is investigating at least 74 cases with six of those children needing a liver transplant. 10 cases have been reported in Scotland with a few being discovered in Spain and Ireland as well.

Experts say adenoviruses previously have been linked to hepatitis in children, but mostly in kids with weakened immune systems.

“Signs and symptoms of liver injury along with signs of GI illness were also positive for adenovirus,” Dr. Stubblefield said. “Half of which were specific to the particular type, adenovirus 41, which has also been seen in some of the UK cases.”

Both the CDC and the World Health Organization are looking into the adenovirus as well as COVID-19 for possible causes. In Europe, some children have tested positive for adenovirus while some tested positive for COVID-19. Experts are still exploring a possible link.

According to ADPH, each neither of the children had underlying health conditions including
COVID-19 but none of the nine Alabama children had received a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s one more thing that should be tested for while they are going through their evaluation because like it said it’s one of several things that can cause damage to the liver,” Dr. Stubblefield said.

At this time, medical professionals say it’s important that parents stay up to date on their children’s vaccinations. They also say it’s important to practice good hygiene like washing hands for at least 20 seconds.