Severe Hepatitis Outbreak in Children Cause Unknown

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Courtesy of aJ Gazmen (Flickr CC0)

The World Health Organization reported an outbreak of 228 severe hepatitis cases in children with dozens more being investigated in 20 countries as of May 1. The origin of this recent outbreak is unknown and is being investigated. Currently, the CDC is investigating 109 cases in 24 cases in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, according to the CDC’s infectious diseases deputy director Jay Butler. The agency is also exploring five deaths related to the outbreak.

Most of the 109 children diagnosed with hepatitis were hospitalized. Eight of them required liver transplants. Two weeks ago, only 11 cases had presented in the U.S.

Hepatitis is inflammation in the liver and is usually caused by either virus A. B. C. D. or E. However, in these cases, the viruses have been ruled out as the cause.

In October, the first cases were reported in the U.S. There were nine cases, and the CDC issued an alert. All of the infected children were between the ages of one and six. On Friday, the CDC reported in the overall U.S. cases, half of the patients’ illnesses were identified as adenovirus.

Courtesy of Asian Pacific Community in Action (Flickr CC0)

Adenoviruses are common and generally present with cold-like and gastrointestinal symptoms. However, they are not known to cause hepatitis in healthy patients, according to the CDC. In all of the child hepatitis cases, the CDC reports the children were previously healthy and did not have any underlying conditions. Dr. Philippa Esterbrook said during a press conference on Wednesday that the CDC has explored foods, geographic location, animals, travel, and toxins but has not been able to find a connection thus far.

The majority of the children diagnosed with hepatitis are not old enough to have received the COVID vaccine, and they are not presenting with the COVID illness. If adenovirus is the cause, then it is contagious.

The states that have reported severe cases have been reported to the CDC have been from Alabama, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Illinois, Ohio, Delaware, Georgia, New York, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, California, Idaho, Texas, Colorado, Missouri, Maryland, Washington, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Arizona so far this month.

Hepatitis and adenoviruses both can present with symptoms of nausea and diarrhea, however, an adenovirus will run its course and the patient will improve without needing medical attention, according to Dr. David Hill, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Severe symptoms to look for include severe abdominal pain, fever, dark-colored urine or light-colored stool, and the most telling symptom: yellowing coloring in the skin or whites of the eyes, also known as jaundice.

Written by Jeanette Vietti


Reuters: At least 228 probable cases of child hepatitis so far: WHO
Today: Mystery hepatitis outbreak in kids: Which states are investigating cases?; by Maura Hohman
CNBC: CDC investigating 109 cases of severe hepatitis in kids across two dozen states, including 5 deaths; Spencer Kimball

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of aJ Gazmen‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Image Courtesy of Asian Pacific Community in Action‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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