WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- Health experts around the world reported that 169 children have developed acute hepatitis from a mysterious cause.
- Some cases were so severe that affected children needed a liver transplant.
- Though the cause remains unknown, experts are investigating if a type of adenovirus may be involved.
Health experts worldwide are investigating a mysterious outbreak of severe cases of hepatitis in young children.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to U.S. doctors to look for mysterious and severe cases of hepatitis that are affecting young children.
Here are some of the details about the mysterious outbreak.
Over 130 hepatitis cases have been reported globally, with Britain reporting 108 cases since January.
Other countries, including the United States, Israel, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain have reported smaller numbers of cases.
Pediatric hepatitis is not rare. However, the first cases reported in Scotland on April 6 raised the alarm because children had severe cases. Some of them have even needed liver transplants.
Another concern was that the cases were not associated with typical viruses — hepatitis A, B, C, D and E — which are usually linked to the condition.
“This is still a very low number of cases, but they are children, that is the main concern, and the other thing is the severity,” said Maria Buti, a hepatology professor from Barcelona and chair of the European Association of the Study of the Liver’s public health committee.
Experts’ theory is an adenovirus is causing the disease. Adenovirus is a common family of viruses that can cause a range of illnesses including the common cold.
One type of adenovirus can cause acute gastroenteritis that can lead to hepatitis in immunocompromised children, but not in healthy kids.
Public Health Scotland’s director, Jim McMenamin, said an investigation was underway to determine if the adenovirus involved had mutated to cause a more severe disease. They also need to establish if adenovirus could be causing the sickness “in tandem” with another virus, including possibly SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
According to McMenamin, 77% of the children in Britain had tested positive for adenovirus.
There’s also a possibility that a new pathogen may be involved.
Experts ruled out a link to COVID-19 vaccines as the affected children in Britain were not vaccinated.
Some scientists theorized that reduced social mixing during the pandemic could lead to lowered immunity in children.
Public health alerts in the U.S. and Europe recommended that doctors be on the lookout for the condition, and to test kids for adenovirus if they suspect hepatitis.
Symptoms of hepatitis include dark urine, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice), sickness, fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, light-colored stools, and joint pain.
The British Health Security Agency recommended handwashing and “good thorough respiratory hygiene”, such as catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue.