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Pediatric Hepatitis Cases Linked to Adenovirus, Not COVID

May 02, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a nationwide health alert to notify clinicians and public health authorities about a cluster of children identified with hepatitis and adenovirus infections.

The most current statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) cite at least 169 cases of “acute hepatitis of unknown origin” from a dozen countries throughout Europe and recently the United States as well.

Sadly, 17 children (approximately 10 percent) have required liver transplantation and at least one death has been reported. The CDC is currently working with the Alabama Department of Public Health to investigate a cluster of nine cases in children ranging in age from one to six years old, all of whom were previously healthy.

“Certainly, when we see an increase within the pediatric population with unexplained acute liver failure, it’s concerning and something we must monitor very closely,” says Michael Einstein, MD, medical director of transplant hepatology at Hartford Hospital and a Hartford HealthCare Digestive Health Center provider.

While the origins of this outbreak are still under investigation, experts have found a likely thread connecting the cases. According to the WHO, a strain of adenovirus, known as F type 41, was detected in more than 70 cases.

Experts are also still exploring a potential COVID connection, but the numbers don’t currently confirm such a link. According to the WHO, SARS-CoV-2 was identified in 20 cases of those that were tested. Furthermore, 19 were detected with a SARS-CoV-2 and adenovirus co-infection. Any connection to the COVID vaccine has been ruled out, as the vast majority of affected children are under the age of five and have not been vaccinated.

According to Dr. Einstein, adenoviruses are actually very common, especially among young children and babies. In fact, most children have had an adenovirus infection before they are 10 years old.

“The virus itself can cause flu-like symptoms,” she said. “Adults tend to handle it better due to prior exposure. Symptoms for general adenovirus would typically be more mild in adults, perhaps some sneezing or coughing, trouble breathing, stomach upset, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.”

With heightened concern about the recent hepatitis outbreak in children, Dr. Einstein suggested parents be on the look-out for symptoms of hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver:

  • Jaundice
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

If your child shows any symptoms of hepatitis, Dr. Einstein says the best course of action is to contact a pediatrician who is best able to triage, assess the symptoms and do the appropriate blood work.

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Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health Institute is a comprehensive resource for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a full range of gastrointestinal disorders.

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