NewsYour Health MattersAsk Dr. Nandi


What to know about the rise in acute hepatitis cases in kids

Posted at 4:07 PM, May 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 17:25:57-04

(WXYZ) — Acute hepatitis cases in children continue to rise. Nearly 200 cases worldwide have been reported – over 20 of them are American children.

I’m a parent, so I can understand why some moms and dads may be worried. But, I want to stress that acute liver failure is very rare in kids who are overall healthy.

Having said that, there has been, unfortunately, a few deaths. One young child died in Wisconsin and three children in Indonesia. Also, 17 children have required liver transplants. Now, most of the cases are in the United Kingdom, but 12 other countries, including the U.S., have also reported severe cases of hepatitis.

So what might be behind these unusual hepatitis cases? Well, hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, and inflammation is swelling. Most often viral infections like hepatitis A, B or C can cause this type of inflammation, which can damage and affect how well a liver functions.

However, health officials are looking at a common pathogen called adenovirus type 41. Adenoviruses often circulate in the spring and they cause cold-like symptoms. Adenovirus type 41 is known to cause gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms. And it’s been found in about half of the worldwide cases so far.

First, none of the affected children in the U.S. were reported to have had COVID-19. So, it’s likely not related to the coronavirus nor the vaccines for it because the majority of children had not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Regarding symptoms, many of the children with acute hepatitis reported gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin or eyes. So, parents should keep an eye out for these symptoms and contact their family doctor if they’re concerned.

As for treatment, most of it is supportive. So, things like intravenous fluids are given if the child is dehydrated. Sometimes medications are prescribed, but that depends on what the cause is. In worst-case scenarios, a liver transplant is needed.

Please remember, liver failure due to severe hepatitis is extremely rare, so if a child is diagnosed with adenovirus, this doesn’t mean they will end up with this serious complication. The liver is quite capable of healing itself and many children do not experience long-term effects after recovery.