A: You should be aware of the signs and symptoms of hepatitis in children, but there is no reason to panic.
Cases seem to be on the rise among children, but scientists are still watching the data closely and do not yet know the cause.
🤒 What is hepatitis anyways?
Hepatitis is a broad term that means the liver is inflamed. Hepatitis can be caused by viruses, medications, toxins, or even the body itself (autoimmune disease), for example. Viral hepatitis can be transmitted in different ways (such as food, close contact, body fluids).
🧒🏽 Why are we worried about hepatitis in children?
At the end of April 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a public notice of increasing cases of hepatitis in children (at that time 169 globally). Children ranged in age from 1 month to 16 years of age, 17 required a liver transplant, and unfortunately one child died. Most of the children presented with gastrointestinal symptoms and elevated liver enzymes as their primary symptoms. The UK was the first to report such cases, over 100 in short time frame (identified between January 2022 and April 2022). The US first reported cases in Alabama, where 9 children were found to have severe hepatitis, three of whom were in liver failure and two of whom needed a liver transplant. These cases occurred between October 2021 and February 2022. Since the initial reports, there have been at least 200 cases reported globally and 20 in the US alone across several states.
📊 Do we know what is causing it?
Hepatitis is rare in children (think less than 1 per 100,000 children) and is usually associated with Hepatitis Virus A, B, or C. The children who have developed hepatitis did not have histories of travel or close contact with infected persons, which are often common exposures to the viruses that cause hepatitis (nor did they have Hepatitis A, B, or C). The majority of children did not have underlying medical conditions. Common causes have not been determined between cases. In the UK and the US, extensive testing of possible causes have included SARS CoV-2, the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), and adenovirus. Some people think that this may be related to adenovirus because many of the children initially infected in the UK tested positive for adenovirus 41. However, it really is too early to tell if this is the case. More data is needed to understand if this is just because such viruses are common among children or if the presence of something like adenovirus 41 could be associated with another virus or risk factor.
🔦 We don’t know exactly what is causing an increase in cases of severe hepatitis in children, but we do know it is important to watch. It could help us prevent cases in the future. For now, scientists are monitoring data closely across the globe and have some different ways of collecting data to understand more (like standardized lab assessments including blood, urine, and liver biopsy).
🙋 So what should we do?
#1: Don’t panic. Remember that this is still a VERY rare event. But for people who watch diseases, this is important to follow.
#2: Inform yourself on the symptoms of hepatitis in children (nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, dark urine, yellow eyes or skin, fever, or fatigue).
#3: Tell your families, friends and communities about the symptoms and that there is an increase in cases so that they are aware.
#4: Call your primary care clinician and/or take your child to urgent or emergency care if your child or someone else’s child has symptoms.
➡️ Remember to also continue basic hygiene measures such as staying home when not well, washing hands, and avoiding contact with sick persons.
Stay safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls
What is viral Hepatitis from the CDC
WHO Report on severe hepatitis of unknown origin in children (April 23, 2022)
PAHO Severe Hepatitis in Children Q&A (May 3, 2022)
UK Health Security Agency Technical Briefing
Disease detectives and the hepatitis outbreak
Emily Oster’s Summary of the Pediatric Hepatitis Cases