CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Doctors around the world are trying to figure out what is causing severe hepatitis causing acute liver failure in children. Two cases were confirmed in North Carolina.


What You Need To Know

On April 23 the World Health Organization reported 169 cases of severe hepatitis in children

Health departments in Wisconsin, Alabama, Illinois and North Carolina have reported cases

WHO reports one death in Europe, and in the U.S. the Wisconsin Health Department reported one death

The hepatitis B vaccine, which is recommended for children, may not protect much against the illness


Lindsey Sebastyn has two children, ages 5 and 2. During the pandemic she kept her children away from others, washed their hands often and wore masks. She did anything she could to keep them safe and healthy, including childhood vaccinations.

“He has received everything that is in the routine schedule for kids in the United States, including hepatitis B,” Sebastyn said.

But now she is concerned after several cases of severe hepatitis in children popped up in the U.S., including two in North Carolina. Hepatitis can cause acute liver failure. Doctors are on high alert because some children have required liver transplants. Wisconsin’s health department recently confirmed one death. 

“Finding information right now has been the difficult part,” Sebastyn said.

It’s difficult for researchers too. They’re not exactly sure what is causing the outbreak. Some children have tested positive for adenovirus, but others have not. Sebastyn also wonders if her children are more protected since they received the hepatitis B vaccine. Emergency physician Dr. Michael Daignault says it’s not clear.

“When you are vaccinated against hepatitis B, you’re vaccinated against that particular virus,” Daignault says. “But the hepatitis that we are talking about in regards to this mysterious illness is inflammation of the liver. So that could be caused by other organisms, and not necessarily the one that you are vaccinated against.

UNC Medical Center reports the two North Carolina cases of hepatitis were treated at its Chapel Hill facility. Both children were able to recover and eventually return home. UNC Health pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Steven Lichtman talked about the cases in UNC Health Talk.

“They came in a day apart,” Lichtman said. “This was very unusual. We usually see about one case of liver failure in a child a year, maybe one every two years.”

Lichtman says to monitor any unusual symptoms and if the whites of your child’s eyes start to look yellowish, even a little, contact a pediatrician right away.

Daignault says while researchers are still trying to figure out the exact cause, parents should not panic. A possible cause could be because children weren’t as exposed to viruses during the pandemic.

“They weren’t getting that exposure and immunity to bread and butter viruses that they usually get,” Daignault said. “So now they are thrown back into the mix of going back to school and their immune systems could be overloaded.”

Doctors say they are not sure exactly what type of hepatitis this is, so it’s not clear how it could spread. On Friday the CDC put out more information about the first cases in the U.S., which were in Alabama. 

Sebastyn says she plans to pay attention to the latest information.

“I don’t want to put them through any unnecessary harm if we can avoid it,” Sebastyn said.

To stay up to date on the situation, follow the CDC’s Emergency Preparedness and Response.