Viral infections probably don’t cause appendicitis

By Tom Nordlie • Published: May 3rd, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The appendix is a mysterious and often troublesome organ.

Doctors aren’t sure what this small tube does.

And each year, a quarter-million Americans have emergency surgery to treat appendicitis, inflammation of the appendix.

The cause of appendicitis is unknown.

But an article published in the journal Archives of Surgery might rule out one possibility… viral infections.

It’s known that appendicitis cases sometimes appear in clusters, suggesting that a contagion is responsible.

So some doctors believe appendicitis is connected to influenza, rotavirus or other intestinal infections.

In the study, researchers analyzed data on those diseases, collected from hospitals nationwide. They compared it with appendicitis data.

There was no correlation between appendicitis and rotavirus or intestinal infections.

The results for influenza were more complicated.

Influenza cases peak dramatically during the winter but appendicitis cases are fairly consistent year-round.

So influenza doesn’t seem to cause appendicitis.

However, there’s a correlation between the annual number of influenza cases and the number of appendicitis cases where the appendix doesn’t rupture.

This suggests two possibilities.

One is, there might be common factors that affect the incidence of both conditions.

The other is, perhaps there are two distinct types of appendicitis, one that causes the organ to burst and one that doesn’t.

Well, here’s one more thing we don’t know… whether any appendicitis case will turn out to be the bursting variety, which can be fatal.

So, if you experience sudden, severe abdominal pain, seek emergency medical care, pronto.

When your life may be at stake, caution is the best policy. And there’s nothing mysterious about that.