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Hepatitis in children

What parents need to know about recent outbreaks.

Article Author: Beverly Wong-Ken

Article Date:

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Health officials are monitoring unexplained cases of severe hepatitis, or liver inflammation, in children that have been reported in Europe and the United States. Because this condition is rare in little ones, these recent occurrences have everyone wanting to know more.

Mobeen Rathore, MD, chief of pediatric infectious disease and immunology at Wolfson Children's Hospital, explained the different types of hepatitis, how common it is in children and what symptoms parents should look out for.

Alphabet hepatitis

"Hepatitis is most commonly a result of a viral infection, but can also be caused by certain medications and toxins," said Dr. Rathore. "Most people are familiar with 'alphabet hepatitis' – A, B, C, D and E. These are the five main viruses that cause different forms of the condition. However, hepatitis can also be caused by many other viruses, including the one that causes mono and herpes viruses."

"Infection type varies with the responsible virus," Dr. Rathore continued. "Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food. Hepatitis B and C are most often spread when the blood of an infected person enters someone else's body. Forms of the virus can also be spread through sexual contact or can be passed to a child from a pregnant mother."

According to recent reports, hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E have not been detected in any of the pediatric cases. Health experts also said there is no apparent link between these cases and COVID-19 vaccines.

Common or concerning?

The recent reports may have parents wondering how common hepatitis is in children and whether they should be concerned. Dr. Rathore provided assurance that at this time, there's no reason to worry.

"Hepatitis A and B are two of the most common causes. Because of vaccines, these forms have become rare in children. Acute hepatitis, which flares up suddenly, is also very uncommon in children," said Dr. Rathore. "A cause for these recent outbreaks in the U.K. and the U.S. has not yet been confirmed. Some believe that adenovirus, a family of viruses that usually cause a range of mild illnesses, may be to blame."

Dr. Rathore added, "At this time, I don't believe parents should be concerned."

Prevent and protect

Though the risk is low, Dr. Rathore said parents should remain vigilant for any sign of infection. Symptoms of hepatitis include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Light-colored stool
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and white portion of the eyes)

"Parents should also ensure their children are protected against hepatitis A and B by getting them vaccinated. Children and adults should follow good hand hygiene practices and thoroughly wash any fruits and vegetables before consuming them," Dr. Rathore said.

If your child develops symptoms suggestive of liver inflammation, start with a call to your pediatrician. To find the right one for your family, call 904.202.4YOU (4968). If your child's symptoms are serious or life-threatening, take him or her to the nearest children's Emergency Center immediately.

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