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CDC investigating cause of spike in acute hepatitis cases among kids

CDC
Posted at 4:42 PM, May 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 19:57:05-04

DENVER — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning parents about an increase in acute hepatitis cases among children across the country.

In a media briefing Friday, the CDC said it has identified 180 cases of hepatitis in kids over the past seven months, including 13 cases in Colorado.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by a number of factors, from alcohol to medications, medical conditions, viruses and more. The most common forms of hepatitis are A, B and C.

The letters delineate which virus causes the hepatitis to form. There are vaccines to protect against some of the viruses that causes hepatitis, while others have no vaccine.

“Hepatitis has been around forever," said Dr. Reginald Washington, chief medical officer for Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. "We've always seen a few cases of hepatitis in children. What we're experiencing now is a large, very rapid uptick in cases throughout the world — not only in Colorado, in the United States."

The challenge with the hepatitis at the focus of the CDC's warning is that medical experts don’t know what’s causing it, so they don’t know how to prevent it.

“Nobody knows," Washington said. "And one of the things that people have to be patient with, the medical and scientific communities are looking very closely to try to define why this is happening."

During the Friday call, Dr. J. Butler, the CDC's deputy director for infectious diseases, said the leading hypothesis for what’s causing the hepatitis is adenovirus 41. It is a respiratory illness, or conjunctivitis, which causes gastroenteritis.

However, adenovirus has not been found in all of the cases. So, for now, doctors are continuing to study the data to try to pinpoint exactly what is happening and why.

Some of the symptoms for hepatitis include an upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting and fever. However, yellowing of the whites of the eyes or the yellowing of skin is the most definitive sign of liver swelling.

Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children has seen several cases of hepatitis in kids recently, but says none of them were serious enough to require hospitalization.

Washington does not believe the hepatitis that’s on the rise in kids is contagious, but he’s waiting for more data on the matter. For now, he encourages parents to not panic but do seek help if their child is sick for a prolonged time or if they are showing symptoms of liver swelling.

“If you have a question or concern about your child, please seek medical advice," Washington said. "That's not panicking. That's doing what a parent should do."