Global health experts are baffled by the recent onslaught of childhood liver disease, warning of the discovery of mysterious outbreaks of hepatitis in children in the United States, Europe and Asia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a nationwide health alert last week that previously healthy children suddenly developed hepatitis, or hepatitis, caused by a number of viruses.
The first US case was detected in Alabama in October while cases appeared in the UK in January. Children aged 1 month to 16 years were affected.
While most cases are in Europe, experts said nearly 200 children globally have developed sudden liver disease, while at least one has died and many children have required liver transplants.
Here are the warning signs and what to look for.
What is hepatitis?
In short, hepatitis is an acute inflammation of the liver. An organ vital to digesting and purifying the body of toxins, an inflamed liver can suppress functions and wreak widespread havoc in the body.
While it can sometimes be mild and require no treatment, severe cases require hospitalization and can lead to liver failure and the need for a transplant.
What causes hepatitis?
The BBC reported that medical experts are not sure what caused the outbreak.
Hepatitis is usually caused by one of several infectious viruses, called hepatitis A, B, and C viruses that are most often detected in the United States, as well as D and E — but are not found in cases.
However, a possible link to the common cold virus – called adenovirus – is being investigated. Nine children in the Alabama block have tested positive for adenovirus as well as some European cases.
UK officials have declared “there is no link” between the cases and the COVID-19 vaccine because no children with hepatitis have received the vaccine, according to the Guardian.
Some experts believe, though, that there may be one possible link to the pandemic: Since many children have been in lockdown for so long, social isolation may have weakened the immune system for a virus that might otherwise only cause mild symptoms, they report. Bloomberg.
Where were the cases found?
The outbreak is widespread, with cases reported in as many as 14 countries across North America, Europe and Asia.
A CDC investigation found that the first cases in the United States were reported in Alabama, where the Alabama Department of Public Health has identified nine cases of hepatitis of unknown origin. The cluster was reported in October 2021 at a children’s hospital in Alabama with previously healthy young adults ages 1 to 6.
On Thursday, UK health authorities said 111 cases of hepatitis had been identified in children there. Another 40 cases have been reported in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said on Saturday that 12 countries have reported cases of acute hepatitis among children, 114 of them in the UK. Last weekend’s tally did not include urgent reports of cases from Canada, and at least one in Japan, according to local media.
What are the symptoms?
Jaundice, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are the most commonly reported symptoms along with fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, light-colored stools, and joint pain. Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, is a telltale sign of a diseased liver because it fails to properly eliminate bilirubin, a yellowish byproduct of filtering blood.
In addition to typical hepatitis viruses, clinicians should test for adenovirus in patients with these symptoms and report potential cases to public health officials.
Dr. Alexander Wyman, director of the Liver Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, specifically told The New York Times that parents should seek medical attention if children have pain in the upper right abdomen, where the liver is located, in the area . been touched.
What are the action steps?
The CDC said all doctors and families should be on the lookout for symptoms and report any suspected cases to their local and state health departments.
To reduce the risk, the CDC encourages many of the same prevention methods as COVID-19 which include washing hands often, avoiding touching the face and mouth, and keeping a distance when possible.