While cases of hepatitis in children remains very rare, cases across the U.S. and around the globe, are growing. There are currently cases across Europe, in 36 of the United States, and in Puerto Rico. In the United States, the CDC is investigating about 180 cases in previously healthy children, typically between 2 and 3 years old. About 90% of these children have been hospitalized, 14% have had liver transplants, and five have sadly died.
While New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have reported hepatitis cases, Connecticut has not.
New Canaan Pediatrics is here to help our parents understand what this illness is and what to watch for in our children, stressing that cases are exceedingly rare.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an infection that attacks and damages the liver. While the most common types of toxic hepatitis in the United States are caused by ingesting poison or a history of alcoholism or drug abuse, the type of hepatitis medical professional are seeing in children is viral hepatitis. Hepatitis A, B and C are all viral types of this illness. Hepatitis A is commonly passed from person to person due to insufficient hand washing, as it lives in feces. Hepatitis B and C are spread through the exchange of bodily fluids such as blood.
Unfortunately, as of this writing these current pediatric hepatitis cases are being diagnosed as “hepatitis of an unknown cause.”
While the leading theory is that the cause of this strain is an adenovirus, this virus has been found in a just a little over half of patients. Researchers say the evidence is not strong enough to confirm this theory as children are often infected with adenovirus; it is a common virus that affects the respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems. They also point out that liver biopsies performed on some of the patients show no evidence of adenovirus particles.
Researchers have concluded there is no link between this illness and COVID-19 or the COVID-19 vaccine.
Symptoms and Prevention
The healthcare providers at New Canaan Pediatrics again stress that, at this time, this hepatitis in children is rare. This illness seems to begin with gastrointestinal issues such as nausea and diarrhea. However, you know your child best and we always welcome your calls if your child experiences:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in the upper right side of their stomach
- Poor appetite resulting in weight loss over several days in a row
There are certain symptoms that require an immediate trip to the emergency room. Your child needs medical attention immediately if they experience:
- Yellowing of skin and whites of eyes
- Dark brown urine
- Pale-colored stools
Preventing viral illnesses means covering coughs and sneezes and frequent and thorough hand washing. Always wash hands after using the bathroom, after touching frequently handled surfaces, and before and after eating.
Most often, viral hepatitis can be treated at home with rest, fluids, and proper nutrition. In fact, many viral hepatitis cases are asymptomatic and resolve themselves without medical intervention. However, in these severe but rare hepatitis cases, hospitalization could be necessary to provide children with IV fluids and medications while monitoring for serious complications.
If severe hepatitis is left untreated, severe liver damage is likely to occur, resulting in the urgent need for a liver transplant.
We stress that the development of hepatitis in children is extremely rare. However, if you have questions when your child is experiencing nausea and diarrhea, call our office at 203-972-4250. We’ll examine your child and order any tests needed to make an accurate diagnosis. New Canaan Pediatrics is always here to help keep your child as healthy as possible.