Severe Hepatitis Cases in Kids Rise: What Illinois Parents Need to Know

We talked with medical experts to give us their insights about the strange illness and how to keep kids safe.

The Illinois Department of Public Health recently issued a warning about potential cases of severe hepatitis for kids in the state. This follows a nationwide alert from the Centers for Disease Control asking parents and providers to keep a lookout for symptoms and report any potential hepatitis cases to local and state health departments.

Recently, clusters of cases were identified in at least six U.S. states in otherwise healthy children. Globally, the same strange illness has been spreading in Europe, with more than 150 children infected.

Rebecca Unger, general pediatrician in Northwestern Children’s Practice, said the few recent cases of severe hepatitis in children in the Chicago area have been associated with a viral infection called adenovirus.

“It is not clear that all of the recent cases are caused by adenovirus but so far that is the infection that is the presumed cause,” says Unger.

Unger says adenovirus can present with respiratory symptoms and gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, fever, overall malaise, and eventually jaundice (a yellow appearance of the skin and eyes) and dark colored urine.

Dr. Anita Chandra-Puri, a Chicago pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics says the usual CDC immunization schedule includes vaccination against Hepatitis A and B within the first two years of life. These are two different viral causes of hepatitis, not the virus specifically in question, which is what makes this outbreak unusual.

While Chandra-Puri says there is no vaccination against adenovirus, good hand hygiene and avoiding contact with people when they have obvious illness symptoms is the best way to keep your family safe.

Both doctors agree that if you suspect your child has hepatitis or if you are worried about the symptoms of hepatitis, seek care from your healthcare provider. They will have to draw labs to check liver function tests.

Common questions about hepatitis in kids

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a broad term used to describe severe inflammation of the liver. The liver carries out essential functions every day, from aiding digestion to clearing toxins from the blood. When the liver is inflamed, it is unable to perform many of those tasks.

How dangerous is hepatitis?

If severe, hepatitis can lead to liver transplants or be fatal.

What are the causes for hepatitis in children?

Hepatitis in children has many different causes including other viruses, medications, toxins and even contaminated food.

What are symptoms of hepatitis?

Although hepatitis symptoms in children overlap with many common illnesses, the most common symptom – and cause for alarm – is jaundice, the yellowing of the skin or around the whites of the eyes. Other symptoms include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Is there any link between hepatitis and the COVID-19 vaccine?

Health officials said there is no link to the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, most affected children have not been vaccinated.

How can parents keep their children safe?

Children should be encouraged to wash their hands often and avoid touching their face and mouth – many of the same measures that help prevent the spread of COVID.

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