Denver, CO

13 cases of rare hepatitis in children reported in Colorado

Claire Cleveland

By Claire Cleveland / NewsBreak

(Denver, Colo.) Since November, 13 cases of unexplained hepatitis in children have been reported in Colorado.

The cases are part of an ongoing international uptick in hepatitis cases in children. Worldwide, 450 cases have been reported and 11 children have died. Since last October, the U.S. has reported 180 cases under investigation in 36 states.

Every year, Dr. Amy Feldman, pediatric liver transplant medical director at Children’s Hospital Colorado, sees cases of hepatitis in children and the majority of those children recover.

“It's very rare to progress to what we call acute liver failure, where the liver is no longer working. And every year across the entire United States, only about 50 to 100 children are transplanted for what we call acute liver failure,” she said. “So while we're taking this very seriously, I want to reassure parents that this is a very rare occurrence for a child to go into acute liver failure.”

Hepatitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the liver. Most commonly hepatitis is caused by one of 5 viruses, hepatitis A, B, C, D and E, but in these cases those viruses have been ruled out as a cause. Hepatitis can also result from certain chemicals and medications, but no medication has been determined to link the cases.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are examining possible causes of the unknown hepatitis. The leading theory is that the cases are caused by adenovirus 41, which causes gastrointestinal symptoms and carries the possibility of liver inflammation in children with compromised immune systems. About half of the U.S. cases tested positive for adenovirus 41, however it has not been found in the Colorado cases. Further testing is needed to confirm the theory.

In Colorado, six cases were reported between November 2021 and March 2022, four were reported in April and three in May. All of the cases are in children younger than 10 and are being investigated by the state.

While Feldman stressed hepatitis remains rare and acute liver failure even more so, there are signs parents should look out for.

“If their child is having yellow skin or yellow eyes, we call that jaundice. If the child's stool or poop is appearing pale, or their urine is very dark” she said. “If the child is excessively sleepy or fatigued, or if they're having persistently high fevers or persistent, severe abdominal pain, then certainly we would encourage them to bring their child to medical attention, and that could either be through their pediatrician or through the emergency department.”

For more resources on hepatitis in Colorado, visit the state health department’s information page.

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Claire Cleveland is a Denver-based freelance writer with a background in health and science reporting. She's covered the pandemic extensively and local news in Colorado. Previously, Claire was a reporter and producer for Colorado Public Radio.

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