What to Know About Adenovirus and Acute Hepatitis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating recent cases of children with hepatitis who also tested positive for adenovirus. While the early results suggest that adenovirus was present in some patients, there is additional work being done to prove whether adenovirus is the actual cause of these cases of hepatitis. In the meantime, Lurie Children’s infectious diseases and liver experts provide information below about adenovirus and hepatitis.

What is an adenovirus?

Adenoviruses are common viruses that can occur at any age and at any time of the year. Typical symptoms are similar to cold and flu including fever, sore throat, acute bronchitis, pneumonia, pink eye or gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting, nausea or stomach pain.

Adenovirus can cause mild to severe illness and is spread from infected individuals to others by close personal contact, through the air when someone coughs or sneezes and touching infected objects and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Symptoms can range from a few days to a few weeks.

What is the difference between adenovirus and coronavirus?

Adenoviruses and coronaviruses are both common respiratory viruses in children and adults. There are several different types of adenoviruses and coronaviruses. Most cause relatively mild illness in otherwise healthy people. However, some types can cause more severe disease. For example, SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which is more severe than most coronaviruses. Similarly, some subtypes of adenovirus can cause more severe disease.

How can you prevent the spread of adenovirus?

You can prevent the spread of adenovirus similar to the prevention practices for other viruses. Individuals should wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoid close contact with those who are sick, stay home if you feel ill, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, cough and sneeze in your sleeve or tissue (not your hands), and avoid sharing cups and utensils and kissing others.  

Is it common for adenovirus to cause acute hepatitis?

Adenovirus is known to cause hepatitis in newborn infants and older children that have a weakened immune system.  We worry about adenovirus causing severe hepatitis in our immunocompromised patients, such as those on chemotherapy and who have had organ transplants. However, it does not typically cause hepatitis in older children who are otherwise healthy.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that causes liver cell damage and if severe, can interfere with the normal function of the liver. In severe cases of hepatitis, liver failure or death can occur.  Viral infection is one of the more common causes of hepatitis. There are four main types of hepatitis virus including hepatitis A, B, C, and E.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

The following are the most common symptoms of hepatitis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently and some children may experience no symptoms at all.

Symptoms of acute (abrupt onset) hepatitis may include the following:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fever
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Not feeling well all over
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Diarrhea
  • Later symptoms include dark-colored urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). The symptoms of hepatitis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

In addition to a complete medical history and examination by your physician, diagnostic procedures and other tests may be needed to determine the extent of the disease.

Treatment for hepatitis varies depending on the underlying cause of the disease and should be determined by a child’s physician. The goal of treatment is to stop damage to the liver and alleviate symptoms.

Click here for more information on treatment.

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