KOCHI: A global surge in mystery hepatitis infections in children has drawn attention to this dangerous disease that affects the liver severely. This Hepatitis Day, experts have called for diligent surveillance and caution to ward off the virus. Last year, Kerala recorded around 850 hepatitis cases and five deaths. Though a majority of the hepatitis cases were due to viruses, experts point out that in some cases lifestyle issues are causing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in children.
“The number of NAFLD cases is rising among our children,” said Dr Vinitha Vijayaraghavan, a paediatric gastroenterologist with Aster MIMS, Kozhikode. Hepatitis can be acute or chronic, depending on the cause. Dr Vinitha said most children are asymptomatic and the disease might be incidentally detected when liver tests are done as part of routine checks during some other illness.
“Some children present with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, jaundice and malaise. Other symptoms include signs of acute liver failure, like uncontrolled bleeding, disorientation and oedema, at times requiring liver transplantation,” she said. Dr Rajeev P, a gastroenterologist based in Kochi, said contaminated food and water or blood and blood products are the most common cause of the disease. “Hepatitis can also spread through respiratory infection, for instance due to an adenovirus, though this is rare,” he said.
Recent studies have found the existence of adenovirus in children diagnosed with the disease. Considering the gravity of the situation, the WHO is conducting a global survey to identify possible reasons for the surge. “At this stage, it is very important to strengthen the surveillance in the state to identify any possible cases reported here,” Dr Rajeev said.
Medications and vaccinations are available to reduce the viral load in Hepatitis B and C infections, pointed out Dr Vinitha. “They help reduce complications of chronic infection and slow the progression to cirrhosis. For Hepatitis A or E infections, the disease is self-limiting, and with care, children recover. When the infection is severe, intensive care is required. Sometimes, the infection can lead to severe liver failure in children, requiring transplantation,” she added.