Concerns increase around a mysterious hepatitis outbreak in children
by pedro graterol
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control estimated that the number of cases of hepatitis in children has reached 450. This represents a sharp increase in comparison to the latest estimation of the World Health Organization, which listed the global probable case number at 386. Yet, while the numbers change, something is clear. There is a hepatitis outbreak in children across multiple countries. This outbreak is causing significant concern among public health experts around the world as currently remains unexplained and has been severe enough to require transplants in multiple cases.
The largest number of cases have been detected in the U.K, 163 as of May 3rd according to UKSHA data. Of these cases, 11 children have received a liver transplant. Yet, this issue is also present in the U.S. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control launched an investigation on over 109 potential cases. Of these, 14% have needed liver transplants, 5 have died and almost all of them have required hospitalizations. This is an ongoing situation, and there is still a lot of information to be learned. However, one of the most puzzling facts is that the common viruses linked to hepatitis, the ones that receive the designation of Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, are not present. So, what could potentially be causing this mysterious outbreak?
A potential reason that can be discarded is the COVID-19 vaccine. Most of the cases are in kids who are too young to qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, according to a report in The Atlantic, most of the children presenting hepatitis are testing negative for COVID-19. In fact, only 18 percent of the probable cases tested positive for COVID-19. So, there is not a direct link between current COVID-19 infections and hepatitis cases. However, this doesn’t rule out other ways in which COVID-19 can be involved. Current research is focusing on the role of prior infections and antibodies.
At the moment, the strongest link with these hepatitis cases is seen with adenovirus. According to a May 10th WHO report, around 70% of the cases also tested positive for adenovirus. This is a term for a broad group of viruses that normally cause cold-like symptoms. Further analysis identifies the subtype F 41 of adenovirus as the prevalent one among hepatitis cases. Normally, this adenovirus causes gastrointestinal disease. And while adenovirus has been linked with liver problems, it is more likely to be seen in types 1,2,3,5, and 7 instead of 41. Furthermore, the common signs of adenovirus liver infections were not present in all the cases, according to The Atlantic. Hence, while adenovirus can serve as part of the explanation, it might not be all of it. As was previously stated, there is still much to learn as this outbreak develops. However, according to Dr. Jesse Butler, CDC’s deputy director, the cases are still very rare and, as of now, it is not time to worry. Nevertheless, this story is worth paying close attention to as more information comes to light.
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