Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News
The CDC has been closely monitoring the dozens of cases of children that have been diagnosed with hepatitis. Agency officials announced that there have been 71 more cases added to the mysterious outbreak in American children. The agency has been keeping tabs on the situation since October of 2021, when multiple children from Alabama were diagnosed. As of Wednesday, the CDC revealed that there were five children that had died, 16 required liver transplants and a total of 180 cases across the country. All of the affected children have been aged 10 or younger.
Scientists are still struggling to find the cause of the outbreak because there isn’t any obvious connection in each case. Dr. Philippa Easterbrook, an infectious disease physician with the World Health Organization, said during a media briefing on May 4 that “there’s no link to one geographic area, common exposure to particular foods or animals, travel or to toxins.”
When the CDC was first notified of the cases in Alabama, doctors were able to rule out COVID-19, bacterial cause, urinary tract infection (UTI), autoimmune hepatitis and Wilson disease. As previously reported, one theory was that an adenovirus, which can cause common cold and gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and diarrhea, could be the cause of the illness since over half of the patients tested positive for adenovirus type 41 in their blood. However, some children had liver biopsies done, and there was no viral material detected.
Another theory is that previous COVID-19 infection could be the culprit by making children more susceptible to complications from the common virus. However, only 18 percent of the children who contracted hepatitis had a previous COVID-19 infection. Researchers have also ruled out any connection to vaccines since most of the children are too young to have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Symptoms of hepatitis include jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes), dark-colored urine, fatigue, nausea, and light-colored stools. Acute hepatitis usually resolves, although in some cases liver inflammation may be chronic and lead to liver damage over time. Researchers have determined that the typical cause of hepatitis, usually caused by hepatitis A, B, C, D, or E, are not the cause of this outbreak. Globally there have been 520 cases reported from 21 countries with 12 total deaths.
“It is not yet clear whether there has been an increase in the number of cases of hepatitis in children or improvements in detecting cases. It is not unusual for the cause of some hepatitis cases in children to remain unknown,” the CDC said. However, scientists and global health agencies are working toward finding the cause.
The CDC recommends that parents watch for symptoms of hepatitis, encourage good hand hygiene, and keep children up to date on vaccinations. Currently there is no adenovirus vaccine available to the general public. The agency also recommends that parents contact their children’s pediatrician with any concerns.
Health care providers are encouraged to report any cases of pediatric hepatitis without a known cause to their local health department.