after a CDC alert about an accumulation of rare hepatitis cases in children, a pediatric hepatologist at Stanford Children’s Health provides guidance for parents.
Global health authorities are tracking a mysterious outbreak of hepatitis cases in otherwise healthy children in the United States and Europe. It is currently unknown what is causing the hepatitis outbreak.
Between October 2021 and February 2022, nine children were admitted to Alabama hospitals with sudden onset hepatitis. Now the CDC is investigating 109 cases of severe and unexplained hepatitis in children nationwide, including five deaths. Fourteen percent required a liver transplant and almost all – 90 percent – required hospitalization. More than half of the patients tested positive for adenovirus infection.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can occur in children for many reasons.
“Paediatricians and pediatric gastroenterologists know that adenovirus infection can cause short-lived liver inflammation,” said Leina Alrabadi, MD, pediatric transplant hepatologist at Stanford Children’s Health. “But what is worrying and new is that some healthy children become very ill with adenovirus and in some cases progress to acute liver failure.”
Adenovirus infections are common and usually mild. They can cause cold symptoms, fever, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea and conjunctivitis. dr Alrabadi says that in most cases hepatitis can make a child feel sick, but liver failure rarely occurs.
If your child has the following symptoms of acute hepatitis, see your pediatrician for further evaluation:
- stomach pain
- yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
- Light or white stool
- Dark urine
How can parents protect their children?
Although the cause of these hepatitis cases is still unknown, says Dr. Alrabadi that good hygiene is most important. The hepatitis A and B vaccines included in children’s vaccines are important and prevent children from developing severe forms of hepatitis; However, these vaccines do not prevent adenovirus infections. Adenoviruses are usually spread airborne from infected people to others by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, or touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them.
“In general, it’s important not to touch your face and continue to practice proper hand washing, as we have often done during the pandemic, to prevent disease transmission,” says Dr. Alrabadi.
Doctors would like to stress to parents that this news is not a cause for alarm.
“Please remember that severe acute hepatitis in children is rare,” says Dr. Alrabadi. “The recent spate of cases is puzzling but health officials continue to investigate. Contact your child’s pediatrician with any concerns or questions.”