New Mysterious Hepatitis Outbreak Affecting Young Kids, Killing One, Has Doctors Worried

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There is a new medical mystery that has been quietly haunting the international news media for a few weeks.

Children from more than a dozen countries have been falling severely ill with an “acute hepatitis of unknown origin.”

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To date, this puzzling condition makes up 169 cases and counting. The age range is spread from infancy to 16 year-olds, however, a majority of cases have been in kids under the age of five, with three being the medium age.

114 of those cases are in the UK, however, this alarming infection has reached the United States as well the EU.

As of today, a total of 10 children have required liver transplants, and one child has died.

The World Health Organization has not said which country the child was from. 

As such, the CDC has issued an alert to notify clinicians and public health authorities of a cluster of children identified with hepatitis and adenovirus infection

What is so alarming about this rash of cases is that the acute hepatitis symptoms do not appear to be caused by any known strain of hepatitis.

Rather, it is beginning to look like an emerging infection caused by a sharp rise in adenovirus cases in the UK. 111 UK kids with this condition were tested for adenovirus, and 53 came back positive. 

One theory that experts are looking at is that during the Covid pandemic when people were masking up, many cases of routine virus infection such as adenovirus, the common cold, and flu, among other infections dramatically fell.

Mother hand holding child hand who have IV solution in the hospital with love and care

Masks did a great job at keeping germs out, but now that the masks are coming off, virus infections are surging, and playing catch up. 

“There may be a cofactor causing a normal adenovirus to produce a more severe clinical presentation in young children,”

the UK health agency said in a statement, reported by CNN,

“such as increased susceptibility due to reduced exposure during the pandemic, prior SARS-CoV-2 or other infection, or a yet undiscovered coinfection or toxin.

Alternatively, there may have been an emergence of a novel adenovirus strain with altered characteristics.”

Here in the United States, cases of acute hepatitis have been identified in Alabama, North Carolina, and Illinois.

While the number of cases remains very low, the severity of the illness and the worldwide spread with an unknown origin has many experts baffled and concerned. 

What is adenovirus?

According to the CDC, adenoviruses are a cluster of more than 50 different viruses that cause a variety of different cold-like illnesses. Symptoms can include fever, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea, and pink eye (conjunctivitis) and can infect anyone of any age.

How is it spread?

Adenovirus spreads in different ways, remember this is a grouping of viruses and not one singular illness. Some adenovirus can spread after coming in contact with stool such as changing a diaper or not washing hands very well after using the bathroom. 

Another way it spreads is through symptom-less shedding when an infected person sheds the virus material. 

Other ways the virus can spread include through close personal contact such as shaking hands, sharing bodily fluids, through the air, and consuming undercooked meat.

How to tell if adenovirus turns into hepititis?

Hepatitis is a generic medical term that describes liver inflammation.

The liver is a vital organ that aids in digestion, produces hormones, processes nutrients, metabolizes drugs, and cleanses the body’s blood of toxins.

Children who tested positive for adenovirus and experienced acute hepatitis shared the same genetic sequencing of the virus; adenovirus type 41. Some symptoms they experienced include:

  • fever
  • aches and pains: if your child’s abdomen is tender or hurts call a doctor 
  • vomiting and diarrhea
  • yellowing of the whites of the eyes

Right now, experts are not certain why young kids are experiencing acute hepatitis.

While the story develops and we learn more there are some simple, common-sense preventative steps that everyone can take.

  • Wash your hands and avoid touching your face and mouth.
  • Practice good eating hygiene by thoroughly cooking foods, and using clean water, and properly washing pots, pans, dishes, and utensils.
  • If you’re sick, stay home.

For more information about adenovirus and other infections, check out the CDC or call your family doctor. 

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