Mystery liver disease: 1st US child death possibly linked to pediatric hepatitis outbreak reported

An increase in severe hepatitis cases in children prompted Wisconsin health officials to issue an alert Wednesday after identifying “at least four similar cases” that may have resulted in the first U.S. child death linked to the mysterious pediatric clusters.

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Of the four ill Wisconsin children, one required a liver transplant, and another died, WITI reported.

Should health officials confirm the illnesses, marked by acute liver inflammation in otherwise healthy children, are linked to outbreaks across Europe and the United States, the Wisconsin child’s death would be the first known U.S. child death attributed to the mystery liver disease, possibly linked to the adenovirus, the TV station reported.

Wednesday’s health alert, issued by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, followed similar warnings from both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.

>> Related: Mystery liver illness linked to 1 child death, 17 transplants in US, Europe, WHO says

More than two dozen cases of severe hepatitis have been reported in at least seven states, and cases have also been reported in at least 11 countries, including the United Kingdom, U.S., Spain, Scotland, Ireland, Israel, Japan and possibly Canada, The Guardian reported.

Since Oct. 1, 2021, nine pediatric hepatitis cases have been confirmed in Alabama children between the ages of 1 and 6 with no known cause, but all nine tested positive for adenovirus. Although two of the Alabama children required liver transplants, none died, CBS News reported.

According to The Guardian, roughly 200 cases have been confirmed globally, more than half of which, or 114 cases, have been diagnosed in the U.K.

None of the pediatric patients to date has a documented history of previous COVID-19 infection, CNN reported.

Dr. Greg DeMuri, a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, told WITI that the specific strain of adenovirus associated with the recent outbreaks, adenovirus 41, often causes gastrointestinal issues and has been known to cause hepatitis in the past.

“It’s just a really rare thing, and I’ve seen only a handful of cases,” DeMuri told the TV station, adding, “The newness part of this is really that it’s infecting healthy kids and seems to be higher numbers than we would expect.”

Per the health alert, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services launched its own investigation after learning of the Alabama cluster.

>> Related: Medical mystery: Kids contracting hepatitis with no known cause, liver damage in US, Europe

“Not everybody who has hepatitis would normally get a test for adenovirus, but now clinicians need to know to do that,” DeMuri told WITI, noting that several of his colleagues are investigating better diagnostic tools than traditional blood tests to pinpoint the cause of the outbreaks.

“We need to know: Is this a mutated virus, a variant if you will, that’s more infectious and more likely to cause the infection in the liver, or is this just a random occurrence?” he said.

According to the CDC, hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver with myriad causes, including viral infections, alcohol use, toxins, medications and certain other medical conditions.

Meanwhile, signs and symptoms of the condition may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice, the agency stated.

“If you’re the average parent in Wisconsin, I would say do some things that are smart to make sure your kids are healthy, but I don’t think you have to put this high on your radar of things that are of concern,” DeMuri said.