A medical mystery has doctors and parents worried. Young children in the US, Europe and Israel have been developing hepatitis for no obvious reason, and the outbreak keeps getting larger. The first cases were reported in Alabama in the fall of 2021. By the beginning of May, officials in 20 countries had reported cases affecting at least 228 children. Cases have shown up throughout Europe, as well as the US, Japan and Israel. An estimated 18 youngsters required liver transplants, and one has died.
Why Are Little Ones Developing Hepatitis?
Pediatricians and infectious disease experts are at a loss to explain the cause of the liver disease. They have ruled out viruses known to trigger liver inflammation (Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E). One hypothesis is that adenovirus-41 is the culprit (CDC Health Alert Network, April 21, 2022).
COVID-19 does not appear to have caused the illness. Moreover, the sick children are too young to have been vaccinated. CDC is urging pediatricians to test suspected hepatitis patients for adenovirus through nucleic acid amplification testing (also known as PCR). The agency also wants providers to notify it about any previously unreported cases.
The European Office of the World Health Organization wrote that
“This should be taken seriously. The increase is unexpected and the usual causes have been excluded.”
Parents and health care providers should be alert for any symptoms of developing hepatitis. These include yellow eyes and skin, fatigue, fever, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhea. Doctors who notice warning signs should order a blood test for liver enzyme levels as well as an adenovirus test.