Is SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Related to the Hepatitis in Children Outbreak? Here’s What We Know

Recently, healthy children in many countries have suddenly developed hepatitis of unknown origin, causing panic around the world. Among these child patients, 8 percent to 14 percent need liver transplants. The public are worried that this is related to the SARS-CoV-2 and/or COVID-19 vaccines. Let’s take a look at the actual situation.

​​Fatal Cases of ‘Hepatitis in Children of Unknown Origin’ Emerge Worldwide

In over four short months, more than 200 cases of acute hepatitis in children broke out in more than 20 countries around the world. And the causes have not yet been fully identified, making this a serious public health emergency. In April, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued separate notices to alert the public.

In addition, the WHO reported on May 4, 2022 that as of May 1, 228 children aged 1 month to 16 years old had developed acute hepatitis worldwide, and their conditions were generally severe, with 8 percent of them requiring liver transplantation, and one death.

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On May 6, 2022, the CDC also reported 109 cases of hepatitis in children in the United States, of which

  • 90 percent of the children were severely ill and required hospitalization;
  • 14 percent required liver transplantation;
  • five died

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An investigation report, published on April 14, 2022 in Europe’s Journal on Infectious Disease Surveillance, provided some details. The report included 13 cases of children from Scotland with confirmed acute hepatitis. The median age of these children was four years old, split equally between males and females; they had no underlying disease in general and no history of immunodeficiency or immunosuppressive drug therapy.

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All these children had severe hepatitis, with abnormally high levels of ALT (alanine transaminase), a marker of impaired hepatocyte functions.

Normal levels of ALT are less than 40 IU/L. Greater than 500 IU/L is a sign of severe disease, and most of these children had ALT levels above 2,000 IU/L.

Their common symptoms included vomiting, jaundice, diarrhea, and lethargy. And one of the 13 children had a liver transplant.

How Do People Contract Hepatitis?

When hepatocellular damage occurs one first needs to rule out viral infection. And the common viruses that cause hepatitis include:

  • hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E viruses
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • EBV (Epstein-Barr Virus)

However, in this recent outbreak of hepatitis in children, they tested negative for all of these viruses.

Besides viruses, other causes of liver diseases include bacteria, parasites (e.g. schistosomes), genetics, metabolism, and alcoholic liver disease. After investigation, no supporting evidence for any of these causes was found.

Therefore, doctors are still investigating other viruses. Currently, the most suspected virus is adenovirus. In addition to adenovirus, the possibility of the SARS-CoV-2 virus cannot be completely ruled out, either.

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During this outbreak, approximately 50 percent of the cases of hepatitis in children around the globe tested positive for adenovirus nucleic acid.

Let’s first learn more about the adenovirus.

There are more than 100 types of adenovirus, which usually cause mild respiratory or gastrointestinal infections.

In this investigation, children were found to be infected with adenovirus type 41, a double-stranded DNA virus with no envelope and only a nucleocapsid, which usually causes acute gastroenteritis in children. However, the virus is self-limiting, as it can be cured without treatment.

The journal Clinical Infectious Diseases reported that adenovirus type 41 generally causes relatively severe diseases only in immunocompromised children. Therefore, adenovirus infection alone is insufficient to fully explain the severity of this outbreak.

Israel’s 7 Cases Show a Link to SARS-CoV-2

The Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Israel analyzed seven cases of acute hepatitis in children and found that these children didn’t test positive for adenovirus. However, they had one thing in common. That is, they had all been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. By testing the sera of their family members, it was discovered that these children had all been exposed to an environment of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

This is an alarming finding.

Other studies on the transmission route of the SARS-CoV-2 seem to provide a further hint that the “fragment components” of the virus, such as the spike proteins, may be transmitted through prolonged intimate family contact.

The human body has one type of small vesicle-like structure called exosomes that can transmit the virus. Exosomes are extracellular vesicles that act as carriers of information between cells—like a logistics delivery system. In healthy individuals, exosomes transmit signals of health; but in unhealthy individuals, these exosomes transmit harmful substances and promote infection.

Therefore, cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 would release exosomes in addition to complete virions, with the following consequences:

  • Transmission of pathogen-associated molecules, viral RNA, and proteins (including spike proteins);
  • Suppression of the immune response;
  • Inducing apoptosis of immune cells

Two studies published in the journals Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences and Frontiers in Immunology have shown that after infection with SARS-CoV-2, the patients’ bodies produce exosomes from their infected cells. These exosomes promote the spread of the virus and lead to inflammation and multiple organ failure.

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Data from the Israeli medical study showed that the seven children with hepatitis all had family members who had been infected with SARS-CoV-2. Their parents’ bodies carried exosomes that would induce inflammatory molecules, regardless of whether or not they showed obvious outward signs of infection. As a result of living together for a long time, with long and frequent intimate contact, such as kissing and hugging, spike protein, cytokines, and other pathogenic factors might have been transmitted to the children through saliva and/or other channels, leaving their immune cells in an unhealthy state.

Furthermore, children’s organs are particularly vulnerable, and their immune system is still developing and thus not yet mature enough to heal oneself. So it is likely for them to be harmed by various foreign substances.

SARS-CoV-2 Damages the Liver

It is already known that SARS-CoV-2 can cause damage to the lungs, heart, and brain.

In fact, the ACE2 receptor of SARS-CoV-2 is also expressed on the surface of liver cells, and hepatocellular damage is one of the most common clinical features in patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

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A recent study by a German research team published in the journal Nature demonstrated that the ACE2 receptors of SARS-CoV-2 virus are also present in liver cells.

The continuous stimulation of hepatocytes by the spike proteins may also cause hepatocyte damage. This study also found that 57 percent and 63 percent of patients requiring hospitalization for Covid-19 developed hepatic impairment.

In the livers of patients who died of Covid-19 infection, the virus’s spike proteins were also found in the hepatocytes. This suggests that the virus does attack the liver.

Top 3 Causes of Acute Liver Injury in Children

A study published in the journal Children in 2020 discovered that there were three major causes of acute liver failure in children and adolescents.

Infants under 1 year of age:

  • 73 percent due to infectious factors
  • 43 percent due to metabolic disorders factors

Children and adolescents aged 1 to 18 years:

  • 60 percent to 79 percent due to toxins

The average age of children with recent acute hepatitis is 3 to 4 years old, so the focus should be on toxin factors.

What are toxins? In addition to poisonous mushrooms and drug overdoses, more and more studies have found that the spike proteins of the virus are also a sort of toxin. And they have multiple negative effects on human body’s functions including:

  1. Lowering the level of cellular production of interferons and inhibiting the antiviral state of cells;
  2. Inhibiting the functions of cellular mitochondria, which are the body’s energy base. And if the mitochondria of liver cells are damaged, then liver failure is likely to take place

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These long-term negative stimuli can easily cause immunosuppression in children, which can lead to infections by other viruses, such as adenovirus.

In conclusion, it is likely that severe hepatitis in children doesn’t have one single cause, but due to multiple factors, such as:

  • Immunological immaturity and imperfection in children;
  • Family transmission due to their parents’ infection with SARS-CoV-2;
  • Suppression of immune cells in children due to viral spike proteins;
  • The children’s own factors

Therefore, if a child develops symptoms of hepatitis, it is important to know whether or not his or her parents have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 (including asymptomatic infection) and to investigate the temporal pattern of the parents’ SARS-CoV-2 infection and the onset of the child’s symptoms.

Can Parents’ Vaccination With mRNA Vaccines Affect the Children?

The most common vaccines for SARS-CoV-2, the mRNA vaccines, are more likely to produce spike proteins than the natural virus.

A cutting-edge study published in The Journal of Immunology found that exosomes expressing spike proteins were induced from human bodies up to day 14 after mRNA vaccination. These exosomes with spike proteins could continuously exist for at least four months.

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Most of the children with acute hepatitis are under 5 years of age, and most of them have not been vaccinated. So theoretically, the hepatitis is not induced by the entry of the vaccine’s spike proteins into the body.

However, although the children themselves haven’t received the mRNA vaccines, there is a possibility that the spike proteins might have been passed to them in small amounts through the exosomes of vaccinated people (e.g. parents and/or relatives), as they were in close proximity with the children over a long period of time. The spike proteins may also cause damage to the children, as their immune systems are not yet functioning properly. Starting in October 2021, vaccination rates have been high in countries with many cases of hepatitis in children, ranging from 65 percent to 81 percent.

Nevertheless, at present, this is only a theoretical speculation, and this chronic, insidious infection is difficult to detect. Therefore, more detailed information is needed for further analysis.

How to Prevent Hepatitis in Children

In the midst of the pandemic, the most important thing is to maintain a good state of mind, because stress and tension can also deplete the body’s immune system.

The internal causes of diseases are the basis, and the external causes are the conditions. Covid-19 or vaccines are only external triggers. Not all children exposed to the virus will get severe hepatitis. Besides the environment, there are many other factors that contribute to the disease.

In order to protect a child’s liver from damage and to reduce the burden on the liver, parents are advised to pay attention to the following:

  • Take the child outdoors more often to get some sunshine for vitamin D production;
  • Add supplemental foods and reduce condiments;
  • Avoid spoiled foods and food additives;
  • Avoid pickled, smoked, spicy, fatty, and fried foods;
  • Must cook seafood thoroughly, as it may contain parasites and/or germs;
  • Be cautious with medication, as the metabolism of drugs needs to be carried out in the liver
  • Don’t overuse antibiotics;
  • Avoid heavy metal and fungal infections;
  • Ensure regular, good quality sleep

Parents should be on alert, when their children have the following symptoms: Fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain or joint pain, dark urine and light-colored stools, and jaundice.

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The earliest sign of jaundice is in the eyes, where the white part of the eye turns yellow, so parents should carefully observe subtle changes in the color of their child’s eyes.

The most important thing is to remember that our body has self-healing power and immunity at all times. We should protect our immunity, so that we can protect our health by responding to all changes and threats.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Epoch Health welcomes professional discussion and friendly debate. To submit an opinion piece, please follow these guidelines and submit through our form here.

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Yuhong Dong
M.D., Ph.D.
Yuhong Dong, M.D., Ph.D., is a senior medical columnist for The Epoch Times. She is a former senior medical scientific expert and pharmacovigilance leader at Novartis Headquarters in Switzerland, and was a Novartis award winner for four years. She has preclinical research experience in virology, immunology, oncology, neurology, and ophthalmology, and also has clinical experience in infectious disease and internal medicine. She earned her M.D. and a doctorate in infectious diseases at Beijing University in China.
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