Has Covid-19 led to an increase in hepatitis cases in children? Here’s what a doctor says

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It is no secret that Covid-19 can cause other health complications in both adults and children. Almost three years into the pandemic now, doctors now have answers pertaining to health situations, specifically for kids.

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That brings us to the question of whether Covid can lead to an increase in hepatitis cases in children. According to Dr Bhavini Shah, the head of microbiology at Neuberg Supratech Reference Laboratories, there has been a spike in acute hepatitis among children across the world, including India, in recent times.

“At the start of April 2022, health experts from around the world have been observing the unexplained outbreak of acute hepatitis in kids. India saw a kind of hepatitis in 37 children two to six weeks after Covid-19 infection during an outbreak of the Delta variant,” the doctor says.

Dr Shah adds that acute hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that is measured by the level of an enzyme known as SGPT, released at the time when the liver is damaged.

“When SGPT level is more than 10 times the normal upper limit, it is termed as hepatitis. Acute hepatitis can be caused due to many reasons, but it is usually by one of the hepatitis A, B, C, D or E infections,” she explains.

According to the doctor, the immune systems of kids affected by Covid have developed abnormalities or been compromised to such an extent that ‘adenovirus’, which is usually harmless, has manifested harshly. “Adenovirus usually causes upper respiratory tract symptoms such as cold, sore throat, fever, and intestinal issues. This strain is usually related with mild gastrointestinal illness in children,” she explains.

Dr Shah adds that an additional complication in kids is the “multi-system inflammatory condition“, known all over the world. “That is also a kind of immune reaction to previous Covid infection, usually seen three to four weeks after recovery. The majority of the kids recover with medical treatment.”

It needs to be understood that Covid “triggers the immune system”, and whether you are symptomatic or not, have a mild or moderate side of the infection, you have some antigens, which are like the genetic character of the Covid-19 virus sitting in your gut, says the doctor.

“With time, they get engrossed and rouse the immune cells gradually, long after the infection is gone. With the immune system activated and the antigen sitting around in the gut after recovering from Covid, even a slight infection caused by the adenovirus or recurring infection of Covid-19 can trigger a large immune response, and the patient gets hepatitis,” says Dr Shah.

What are the preventive measures?

Per the doctor, parents must prevent kids from getting Covid-19 in the first place. “As we are aware of vaccination in India, 70 per cent of them had antibodies,” she says, adding that vaccination boosts immunity along with nourishing food, sleep and eating vitamin and mineral supplements.

“If a kid is identified to have had Covid-19 in the past, they should follow up with a pediatrician for at least three months after recovery,” the doctor concludes.

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