Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt doctors help investigate mysterious liver disease

Physicians at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt are collaborating with the...
Physicians at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt are collaborating with the CDC to learn more about this mysterious disease.
Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 2:32 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Physicians at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt are collaborating with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other hepatologists around the country to help figure out the origins of a mysterious liver disease affecting children ages 1 month to 16 years.

Largely reported in Europe, the unusually high number of cases of acute hepatitis – severe inflammation of the liver – has been labeled “acute hepatitis of unknown origin.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) noted 169 cases of the illness around the globe. The mysterious outbreak, seen in previously healthy children with no underlying health conditions, has led to a few patients requiring liver transplants due to liver failure and one confirmed death.

“As we send out a survey to doctors all across the country,” said Dr. Saeed Mohammad, Director of the Pediatric Solid Organ Transplant Center at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. “It is possible we will hear about more cases but I’m hoping that this was just a cluster that occurred and it’s not going to spread and increase.”

According to a news release, Children’s Hospital has treated several cases over the past few months. So far, all the patients at Vanderbilt have stabilized without requiring liver transplantation.

“Whenever there are clusters of new hepatitis cases, we must work together to detect clinical patterns amongst the patients here and at other centers,” Dr. Anita Pai, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital, said in a news release. “The source of this specific outbreak has not been confirmed, but the CDC is investigating the possible association between these cases of hepatitis and an infectious source.

“Some of the cases have involved adenovirus, which can cause respiratory symptoms, fever or gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.”

The CDC issued a public health alert asking physicians to be on the lookout for unusual cases of severe liver disease in children.

Common symptoms of acute hepatitis include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fever
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Abdominal pain

Pai and colleagues encourage parents and caregivers to continue the same hygiene measures that have been in pace over the past two years during the pandemic to help decrease the risk of spreading infections.

“If parents see signs of liver disease – yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice), dark urine, pale stool, itchy skin, vomiting and malaise – they should notify their child’s pediatrician,” Pai said.

“I think what parents need to know and do is just the common sense things we used to do before the pandemic. Things like washing your hands very well. Not going out a lot or mixing with people when you’re sick,” Mohammad said.

Many of these patients have required hospitalization.

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