Hepatitis cases of “unknown cause” in children are making news around the globe and causing quite a stir. At Bay Street Pediatrics, parents are asking if this illness is something to be concerned about. Our answer? Not really.
Cases of hepatitis in children are very rare. Cases have been confirmed in Europe, in 36 of the United States, and in Puerto Rico. Here in the U.S., the CDC is investigating just about 180 cases in previously healthy children, generally between the ages of 2 and 3 years. New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have reported cases. Connecticut has not.
About 90% of the affected children have been hospitalized, 14% have had liver transplants, and five have sadly died.
Bay Street Pediatrics is here to help our parents understand this hepatitis and identify the symptoms, stressing again that cases are exceedingly rare.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an infection that attacks and damages the liver. The most common types of toxic hepatitis in the United States are caused by ingesting poison, alcoholism or drug abuse. Hepatitis A, B and C are viral types of infection. Hepatitis A generally lives in feces and is passed from person to person because of inadequate hand washing. Hepatitis B and C are spread through the exchange of blood or other bodily fluids.
The hepatitis cases now seen in children is a viral hepatitis. Unfortunately, as of this writing, medical professionals are still not sure of the cause.
A dominant theory is that the cause of this strain is an adenovirus, but researchers are not convinced. First, the adenovirus has been found in only about 50% of patients. Secondly, children are often infected with adenovirus, affecting the respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems. Third, there is no evidence of adenovirus particles in liver biopsies from some of these patients.
Researchers have concluded there is no link between this illness and COVID-19 or the COVID-19 vaccine.
Symptoms and Prevention
These hepatitis cases typically begin with nausea and diarrhea. Your Bay Street healthcare providers again stress that, at this time, this hepatitis in children is rare.
However, we will always welcome and respect your concerns when your child experiences:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in the stomach, typically on the upper right side
- Weight loss due to a poor appetite for several days in a row
If you notice these symptoms, your child should be taken to an emergency room for medical attention immediately:
- Yellowing of skin and whites of eyes
- Dark brown urine
- Pale-colored stools
Your family can prevent viral illnesses by covering coughs and sneezes. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom, after contact with oft-touched surfaces, and before and after eating.
Many viral hepatitis cases resolve themselves without any medical intervention and without parents ever knowing their children were ill. Symptomatic viral hepatitis can usually be treated at home with rest, fluids, and proper nutrition.
In these severe but rare hepatitis cases, hospitalization may be necessary. Children will be given fluids and medications via IV and also monitored 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.
Bay Street Pediatrics stresses that these hepatitis cases in children are extremely rare. If your child is experiencing nausea and diarrhea and you have questions, call our office at 203-227-3674. We’ll examine your child and order any tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis. We are here to provide your child with the very best healthcare as they grow.