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Hepatitis outbreak in children

  • Published
    28th Jul, 2022
Context

Scientists have found a possible cause for the mysterious hepatitis outbreak in children.

  • Between April and July of 2022, 1,010 cases of severe hepatitis without any explainable cause were reported in children in more than 35 countries.
About

Key findings of the study:

  • Initial investigations found a potential link between adenovirus infection and these cases of hepatitis.
  • Adenoviruses are very common viral infections, especially in children.
  • They typically cause infections such as mild colds, pink eye (conjunctivitis) or stomach problems. However, if they get to the liver they can on rare occasion cause hepatitis.
  • A new study suggests that the severe hepatitis cases seen in children may be the result of three factors working together:
    • adenovirus,
    • adeno-associated virus 2 (AAV2) and
    • an underlying genetic predisposition to the disease

Adeno-associated virus 2:

  • Adeno-associated virus 2 belongs to a group of viruses called Dependoparvovirus which infects both humans and some primates.
  • But what’s particularly interesting about AAV2 is that in order to infect the host, it requires another virus to also be infecting the host at the same time.
  • It uses this helper virus in order to replicate inside human cells.
  • The most common helper viruses of AAV2 are adenovirus and herpesvirus.
  • Another factor that might have played into this were COVID-19 restrictions, which meant many children weren’t being exposed to these viruses and developing immunity at the ages they normally would have.
    • This meant that when restrictions were lifted, children were exposed to these viruses all at once, which would overwhelm their immune system which is not prepared to deal with it.

About Hepatitis:

  • Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that is usually caused by a viral infection or liver damage from drinking alcohol.
  • Short-term hepatitis often has no noticeable symptoms.
  • But if some develop they can include dark urine, pale grey-coloured poo, itchy skin and yellowing of the eyes and skin.
  • They can also include muscle and joint pain, a high temperature, feeling and being sick and being unusually tired all of the time. 
  • When hepatitis is spread by a virus, it's usually caused by consuming food and drink contaminated with the faeces of an infected person or blood-to-blood or sexual contact.
  • Symptoms: Hepatitis symptoms include dark urine, yellowing of the eyes and skin, sickness, fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, light-coloured stools and joint pain.
  • There is no specific treatment for hepatitis but drugs like steroids can help, as well as medicines to treat the symptoms.

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