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Unusual child cases of hepatitis: Local doctor says parents should 'be aware, don’t panic'

Yellow,Staining,Of,The,Sclera,Of,The,Eye,In,Diseases
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Yellow staining of the sclera of the eye is one symptom of hepatitis.

A string of unusual, severe cases of hepatitis in mostly small children in the U-S and abroad has more than tripled over the past couple of weeks to 348. Tarrant County recently reported a case to the CDC. KERA’s Sam Baker talked about this with Dr. Norberto Rodríguez-Báez, a Professor of Pediatrics with UT Southwestern Medical Center and director of the Hepatology Program at Children’s Medical Center Plano.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Possible causes

Hepatitis can be caused by differing possibilities. Infection with viruses, medication, toxins, and there are certain conditions that are associated with hepatitis.

The most common causes are viruses that range from hepatitis A to hepatitis E. What we're seeing now is more cases of infections related to adenovirus, especially in the United Kingdom. 

What exactly is adenovirus?

Adenovirus is a type of virus that can cause respiratory problems like cough and fever. And that is a type of these viruses that can also cause gathering thermal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. 

Is there a direct causality, or is it just something we've noticed in a number of the cases? 

What we’re seeing in some of those cases, especially in the United Kingdom, is approximately 70% of the cases they found positive for adenovirus. Cases in the United States are a little bit different. There are some that adenovirus has been identified, but there are others in which we do not know the cause. 

One of the other important aspects of these episodes of hepatitis is that 90% are requiring hospitalization and there have been reports anywhere from 10% to 14% requiring liver transplantation.

How do you begin to put together what a cause is or might be of all of this?

That's one of the reasons why the CDC sent alerts to all the medical providers in the United States to gather data in all of these centers so they will analyze. That could give us a little bit more clarity on if there is really an association between all of these patients or something that is not related.

Symptoms parents should look for:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Light-colored stools
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of eyes and skin)
  • Fever
  • Malaise
  • And fatigue, among others.

    How concerned should parents be? 

    I think parents need to be aware that those cases are around. It's not for them to panic. If they have any questions or concerns, they should contact their primary providers and should continue practicing hygiene precautions, such as washing their hands or covering their mouth if they are going to be coughing or sneezing.

    RESOURCES:

Unexplained hepatitis cases rise to 348 worldwide as WHO looks into role of COVID

CDC Gives New Information About Mysterious Hepatitis Cases in Children

CDC: What is Viral Hepatitis? (https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/abc/index.htm)

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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