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Hepatitis outbreak among children: What parents need to know

Written By: Simone Sonnier, UT Physicians | Updated: June 9, 2022
Mother checking her child for a fever

Noticing the warning signs and seeking out timely medical attention can help protect your child against a severe case of hepatitis.

Over 35 states, including Texas, have reported cases of hepatitis among children. Roukaya Al Hammoud, MD, pediatric infectious disease expert with UT Physicians, shares more about the liver disease, and how parents and caregivers can keep their little ones safe.

What causes hepatitis?

The causes of hepatitis in children include viruses, drugs, toxins, and autoimmune diseases. However, there are times when an exact cause cannot be identified — which is the case now.

“A group of viruses that can cause hepatitis and are more known to the public include hepatitis A, B, and C,” explained Al Hammoud, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. “The cases so far have tested negative for all these viruses.”

It’s important to note that generally speaking most instances of hepatitis in children resolve over time and usually are not severe. In this particular outbreak, some cases have been severe and have required liver transplants. Serious cases of hepatitis overall, however, remain rare.

Possible connection to other viruses

Several children in the hepatitis outbreak tested positive for adenovirus. It’s unknown if adenovirus is the actual cause of these occurrences.

Extremely common among younger individuals, adenovirus can cause pink eye, diarrhea, vomiting, or flu-like symptoms. COVID-19 and other hepatitis causes are being investigated in this outbreak as well.

“Most of the involved cases are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine,” shared Al Hammoud.

What are some preventive measures?

Since adenovirus is possibly related to cases of hepatitis of unknown origin, preventive measures to avoid it and other viral infections are important.

“Most viruses are transmitted through contact with droplets from the nose or throat of a sick person or touching hands or objects with the virus on them and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes,” she said. “Adenovirus can remain viable on skin and environmental surfaces for extended periods.”

How to keep your children safe

Safety measures against this outbreak are as simple as proper hand hygiene with soap and water, avoiding sick individuals, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Symptoms to be on the lookout for include jaundice (yellow discoloration of the eyes and/or skin), fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, and fatigue. The current hepatitis outbreak is affecting more younger children, less than 6 years.

Al Hammoud stresses the importance of medical attention if a parent or caregiver notices any of these or other concerning warning signs in their little one.

For additional information and up-to-date news on this outbreak, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.