Doctors Believe They Have Found Cause of Child Hepatitis Surge

End of lockdowns left children with low immunity exposed to unusual mix of viruses
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 25, 2022 2:03 PM CDT
Doctors Believe They Have Found Cause of Child Hepatitis Surge
This electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a group of adenovirus virions.   (CDC via AP)

Scientists believe they have found the cause of a recent surge in hepatitis cases in children—and while they say there's no known connection to COVID infections of vaccines, there is a link to the pandemic. Two teams of British researchers determined that the rise in hepatitis was caused by common viruses that infected children who had not built up immunity because of lockdowns, the BBC reports. They found that British children who became severely ill with hepatitis had high levels of adeno-associated virus 2—AAV2—a virus that has not previously been associated with human diseases, the Guardian reports.

AAV2 can only replicate in the presence of a second virus and researchers believe it spread along with adenoviruses, which usually cause mild cold and flu-like symptoms. The researchers believe the pandemic altered the seasonal trend of viruses, causing co-infections that led to hepatitis in some cases. The World Health Organization has reported more than 1,000 cases of severe hepatits of unknown cause in young children in 35 countries since April, including 22 deaths. In the US, at least six children have died and 15 have needed liver transplants.

"During the lockdown period when children were not mixing, they were not transmitting viruses to each other," Judith Breuer, a professor of virology, tells the BBC. "They were not building up immunity to the common infections they would normally encounter. When COVID restrictions were lifted and children started mixing again, she says, "viruses began to circulate freely—and they suddenly were exposed with this lack of prior immunity to a whole battery of new infections." (Read more hepatitis stories.)

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