5 things intriguing about the current outbreak of hepatitis in children

In the last three weeks, several cases of acute hepatitis or liver inflammation of unknown origin have been reported in children in more than 20 countries. What is known so far about the outbreak still leaves many questions and issues in the air that intrigue experts.

Acute hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, measured by the levels of an enzyme called SGPT that is released when the organ is damaged. Acute illness is like fever. It can be caused by a number of reasons, but is most commonly triggered by hepatitis A, B, C, D, or E infection.

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It is noteworthy that in the current outbreak, so far, no child has presented the typical hepatitis viruses.

Biopsies from these children are being studied to look for less common viruses, but for now this case series is believed to be caused by an adenovirus found in samples from about 70 of these patients. This is the strongest hypothesis.


Credit: Shidlovski/IstockSeveral questions about the current hepatitis outbreak remain unanswered.

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But the adenovirus, which is a family of common viruses that usually causes a cold, hardly ever leads to hepatitis, much less in healthy children, which is what has been happening.

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And what is most impressive is that some of these children needed liver transplants. At least 17 of them turned to a new organ and one died of the disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

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Another fact that has drawn attention is in relation to the symptoms, which have been a little different.

Children have first had diarrhea, then developed tiredness, nausea and vomiting. Usual cases of hepatitis do not come with diarrhea; usually the complaints are nausea, abdominal pain and loss of appetite.


Credit: Getty Images/iStockphotoBrazil has seven suspected cases of hepatitis under investigation

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Another curiosity observed in the outbreak is that the disease seems to be affecting children under five more than others and it is they who appear to be developing serious illness.

The common hepatitis A infection usually does not affect this age group because they receive antibodies from their mother.

How to prevent hepatitis?

While the numerous questions still remain unanswered, it is necessary to pay attention to forms of prevention. One of the simplest and which also helps to avoid other diseases is hand hygiene, especially before and after meals.

It is also important to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.

See the links below for symptoms to watch out for:

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