SAN ANTONIO – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have sent out recent alerts about a new investigation into severe hepatitis in children. Outbreaks around the globe have resulted in one death and at least 17 liver transplants.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters blood and helps fight infections.
“We see hepatitis all the time throughout the year, and they’re mostly sporadic cases here and there. It’s a little bit unusual to see clusters and outbreaks of hepatitis,” said Dr. Tess Barton, an infectious disease pediatrician with University Health System and UT Health San Antonio.
The largest outbreak has been reported in the United Kingdom. Cases have also been reported in Spain, Israel, the United States, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway, France, Romania and Belgium.
“In the outbreak that occurred in the UK, about three-quarters of them were an adenovirus,” Barton said.
Adenoviruses are very common and come in many strains.
“Some of them cause common colds, some of them cause diarrhea. We do see adenovirus causing hepatitis, usually in immunocompromised people,” Barton said.
She said the adenoviruses that cause hepatitis can lead to severe infection.
“Some cases will get better on their own, and sometimes the liver will become so damaged that it no longer works, and it requires a transplant,” Barton explained.
Doctors investigating the recent outbreaks believe an adenovirus strain is to blame for the hepatitis outbreaks, but they haven’t been able to confirm that for sure.
The UK data suggests it has nothing to do with COVID-19 or COVID vaccines.
“Very few of the 100 or so children had received any kind of COVID vaccination, and fewer than 20% of them tested positive for COVID,” Barton explained.
Barton said San Antonio has had some recent hepatitis cases, which generally would not seem unusual.
“We’ll be going back and seeing if there appears to be any clustering going on or if we’ve had any increase in particular viruses such as adenovirus,” she said.
Doctors across the globe will continue comparing notes.
“Is there a link that puts these kids together, where they might have been exposed to the same thing or the same person or the same food?” Barton questioned.
In the meantime, they’re asking pediatricians to be extra vigilant.
“Cases of vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, all the other symptoms we would see with liver failure or liver function,” Barton said. “We can test for liver functions very easily and routinely in the blood. So looking for inflammation in the liver enzymes is something a pediatrician can do. Then, if they’re finding that, then sending them to a specialty lab for viral testing.”
Parents and caregivers are urged to wash hands before and after preparing food or changing diapers.
Barton also said children should get the available vaccines that protect against hepatitis A and hepatitis B to offer further protection from situations like this.
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