Two recent studies have reported acute hepatitis among children during the Covid pandemic in India, amid the global outbreak in mysterious cases of the liver inflammation in kids. A study posted on a preprint server, meaning it is not peer-reviewed yet, showed that 37 children (about 8 per cent) had Covid Acquired Hepatitis (CAH). The study, led by a team at the Bundelkhand Medical College (BMC) in Madhya Pradesh and the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Research in Chandigarh, examined 475 children who tested positive for Covid in April 2021.
Another study, published earlier this month, suggested a possible link between liver disease and Covid-19. The findings, published in the Journal of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, observed a previously healthy three-year-old girl who developed acute liver failure a few weeks after recovering from a mild Covid infection.
The studies come amidst a global rise in cases of acute hepatitis among children with "no-known origin". The liver disease that was first reported in the UK in April, has spread to 21 countries - with 450 cases and 12 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.
"Children pose a specific kind of risk to develop acute hepatitis which is classically food-borne or water-borne and occurs in the form of acute viral hepatitis," Dr Shubham Vatsya, Senior Consultant Gastroenterology, Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad.
"The children are at risk because of contaminated water and food intake and these kinds of viruses survive maximum in the dry summer weather," he added. Typically, in children, Hepatitis A is the most common cause of acute hepatitis in children, and it is known to be self-limiting.
However, none of the five specific viruses (labelled A - E) which usually cause hepatitis was found in the global cases, but the majority of youngsters tested did show up positive for a particular adenovirus - a common family of infections responsible for illnesses from colds to eye infections. Covid virus is also a common suspect.
"Coronavirus has been connected to cases of severe hepatitis in children that have lately arisen. According to a study, SARS-CoV-2 could be the cause of hepatitis in hundreds of children around the world," said Dr. Sharad Malhotra, Senior Consultant & HOD, Gastroenterology Hepatology & Therapeutic Endoscopy, Aakash Healthcare, Dwarka.
The experts, however, ruled out the reason for panic regarding these cases in children and advised children to get vaccinated against Hepatitis to avoid complications.
"We can prevent it by adequate sanitation by preventing any kind of transmission with contaminated food so using properly cooked food or boiled water or reverse osmosis purified water," Vatsya said.
"However, if there is persistent jaundice or recurrent vomiting, your gastroenterologist might ask you to get admitted. We need not panic," he added.
Hepatitis is an inflammation and damage of the liver that affects a variety of body functions. It can be detected by the onset of jaundice (yellow eyes), dark urine and/or pale stool.