There have been approximately 650 cases of severe hepatitis in children around the world in the last several weeks. In the United States, 15 children have needed liver transplants due to the severity of their disease. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are investigating the spread of this disease.
Steven Schulz, MD, is Rochester Regional Health’s Pediatric Medical Director for Monroe County and Finger Lakes Medical Associates. He explains how hepatitis affects the body and what parents should know.
Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver. When the liver becomes inflamed, it does not function as well as it should – meaning it cannot filter out toxins, process nutrients, or fight infections properly.
There are several causes of hepatitis, but the most common cause in children diagnosed in the U.S. are viruses. These include Hepatitis A, B, and C, as well as other common viruses such as mononucleosis due to Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) and adenovirus. Cases can range from mild to severe.
Some of the causes of these infections may stem from:
“There have not been any severe cases of hepatitis in the Rochester area to date,” Dr. Schulz said. “Most of the time, the hepatitis cases we do see are mild and self-limited, and it's not something of major concern. At the same time, we are being vigilant about the potential for more serious cases developing."
Children who are experiencing a group of specific symptoms will be closely monitored for hepatitis.
Those symptoms include:
Children will be administered a blood test to determine if they have hepatitis. Most of the children who have recently developed severe hepatitis have also tested positive for adenovirus – a common virus that is usually shows up with cold- or flu-like symptoms. Investigations are underway to determine why some kids are developing severe hepatitis as opposed to the usually milder illness symptoms that typically accompany adenovirus.
The CDC states that it does not yet know the definitive cause of the severe hepatitis infections in these young children. As much as 50 percent of all hepatitis cases in children stem from unknown causes.
Most of the treatment options for hepatitis are for the symptoms. Hepatitis A treatments rely on treating the symptoms of the viral infection, while individuals infected with Hepatitis B and C can be prescribed antiviral drugs depending on the severity of the disease.
“If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician’s office,” Dr. Schulz said. “We want to be able to help you and your child as quickly as possible.”
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