- At least 109 cases have been detected in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
- The highest number of cases have been detected in the U.K., with at least 169 cases.
- Experts are not sure what is causing these hepatitis cases but suspect it may be related to an adenovirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are continuing to investigate a mysterious outbreak of hepatitis in young children that has taken five lives so far in the U.S.
Dr. Jay Butler, CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases,
“Fifteen days ago, CDC issued a nationwide health alert to notify clinicians and public health authorities about an investigation involving nine children in Alabama identified between October of 2021 and February of 2022 with hepatitis or inflammation of the liver and adenovirus infection,” said Butler.
All nine children in Alabama tested positive for adenovirus, a common virus that typically causes mild cold or flu-like symptoms or stomach and intestinal problems. They came from different areas in the state.
Butler emphasized that all these children were previously healthy and had no underlying conditions.
He added that of 109 cases currently under investigation, most have required hospitalization, and there have been five deaths.
“We’re casting a broad net to increase our understanding,” he said. “As we learn more, we’ll share additional information and updates.”
Regarding any role COVID-19 may play in these, Butler added, “we are not aware of cases that are occurring in kids that have documented COVID-19. But it’s a question that I think is still unanswered.”
Michelle M. Kelly, PhD, Associate Professor, and Research Fellow at the University of Rhode Island, College of Nursing at Villanova University, said the lack of identifiable cause for these cases is “concerning.”
Kelly also pointed out that the number of hepatitis cases in children in the U.S. does not appear to have risen.
“While the situation warrants attention, scientific exploration, and tracking, the overall numbers in the US of children with hepatitis, according to the CDC, has not increased over previous years,” said Kelly.
However, Kelly added that other countries with universal medical records and better healthcare tracing had found increased numbers in children less than five years of age.
Ilhan Shapiro, MD, a pediatrician with AltaMed Health Services, told Healthline it’s important for parents to reach out to their pediatrician if they are concerned their child could have signs of hepatitis.
“When we start seeing these clusters of infection, and not only that, but seeing a high rate of kids ending up needing a liver transplant in a very short period of time, that’s worrisome,” Shapiro said.
Hepatitis refers to the liver being inflamed and is most commonly caused by medications, viruses, or exposure to certain chemicals, according to Shapiro.
Once the liver is affected, it loses its ability to clear certain substances from the blood, including a blood product called bilirubin.
Without bilirubin, a child can become jaundiced, resulting in a yellowish color in their skin and eyes.
“When the liver stops working, we start accumulating all these chemicals in our bodies that we usually flush away,” said Shapiro. “The child will start having a yellow color in their skin and the white part of the eyes – That’s one of the most common things that we can see when we have it.”
Other symptoms include dark urine and stools becoming white, he said.
Shapiro said parents who suspect their child has hepatitis should be ready to provide certain information to healthcare providers.
“They can help us out by knowing if they [the children] have all their vaccines up to date,” he said. He pointed out there are vaccines that protect against the hepatitis A virus and hepatitis B virus. Parents should let their physicians know if their child has been vaccinated against either of those viruses.
Shapiro also recommended making a “mental note” of where your child was and if anybody was sick around them.
“Because that can help figuring out if other people are getting sick or not,” he said.
While what’s causing these cases is still a mystery, experts are trying to pin down a definitive cause.
“We just don’t know,” said Shapiro. “The most common causes are chemicals, medications, and viruses, then we need to figure out if it was something that they were consuming, if it was medication that they all were using, or is this a virus or other viruses that we don’t suspect yet, to figure out which it is.”
He said his best advice is to report anything that might be relevant, “that way we’ll have more information.”
Shapiro also explained that the liver has a remarkable ability to recover from injury.
“The beautiful part about the liver,” he said. “Is if we can help the liver a little bit, it usually recovers. It’s a very resilient organ.”
In a recent telebriefing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that they’re continuing to investigate mysterious cases of hepatitis in children.
Experts say that there are few possible causes for this outbreak, and information gathering should help find which is responsible.
They also say that parents who suspect their child has hepatitis should be ready to provide information, including vaccine history, where the child was, and with whom they had contact.