Roanoke health leader explains pediatric hepatitis investigation

Published: May. 10, 2022 at 5:38 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - A hometown public health leader is providing some insight into a worldwide investigation of unusual Hepatitis cases in children.

According to Dr. Cynthia Morrow, leader of the Roanoke City - Alleghany Health Districts, the bottom line is this is not something to panic about.

“It’s really important for us to keep in mind that, yes, the case count might go up as they do the retrospective clinical case applications,” she said of the CDC’s work, “but it’s still really rare.”

The CDC is investigating possible cases of Hepatitis in otherwise healthy children younger than 10 with no apparent illnesses or viruses known to cause Hepatitis.

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver.

According to an update from the CDC Friday, going back to October, doctors in various parts of Alabama told the agency they’d treated several children for Hepatitis. But none of the usual suspected culprits for the illness were there. And the children were otherwise healthy, that is, not immunocompromised.

Then the CDC got word from the United Kingdom that health experts there were identifying a similar occurrence - unexplained Hepatitis in healthy, young kids.

That’s when the CDC got to work digging into hospital discharge data nationwide for the last several months, and discovered several more cases in Alabama for a total of nine suspected patients fitting the criteria or Case Definition, as Dr. Morrow explained.

In total, so far the US has identified 109 cases in 25 states that fit this definition over the last seven months. Five of the children died. Ninety percent of them were hospitalized and 14 percent had to undergo a liver transplant. The majority of them have since recovered fully.

There have been no confirmed cases in Virginia.

“The overwhelming message for parents is this is not something to keep you up at night at all,” Morrow explained. “I’d be the first person out here if I thought there was an imminent threat to our children’s health and that is not the situation we are in.”

The World Health Organization is also tracking cases, with about 200 plus suspected cases worldwide.

The CDC thinks there may be a connection with a particular strain of Adenovirus, which are very common viruses. Some of the cases have tested positive for it.

But the CDC needs more data to know for sure. And Dr. Morrow said what we’ve learned from COVID will help the agency and others like it around the world.

“Because of improved surveillance we now can be even more responsive to clusters such as this cluster of unknown hepatitis in previously healthy children,” she explained.

In the meantime, the CDC has asked doctors to keep an eye out and test for adenovirus if they’re treating a child with hepatitis and report any possible cases.

Doctors are going to be looking for hepatitis in kids who have symptoms like dark urine, light stool and jaundice.

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