First child hepatitis death suspected in US as mystery epidemic spreads in 12 countries

At least six US states have reported cases of mystery liver illness in young children

Shweta Sharma
Thursday 28 April 2022 15:12 BST
World Health Organisation: Viral hepatitis B and C affect 325 million people worldwide causing 1.4 million deaths a year

Wisconsin health officials are investigating the death of a child to find links to a mystery strain of severe hepatitis which has raised alarm in 12 countries.

Issuing a health alert after a recent spike in cases of acute hepatitis and adenovirus infection in children, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) said it was investigating four cases that are suspected to be linked to unusual hepatitis.

These four children include two with severe outcomes, one who required a liver transplant and another who died, the Wisconsin DHS said.

If the death is linked to the disease, it would become the first fatality due to hepatitis in the US.

Wisconsin is the sixth US state to announce an investigation of cases of inflammation of the liver among children who tested negative for hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, and E.

The Wisconsin DHS issued an advisory to doctors to remain on the lookout for such cases citing a number of cases “with significant liver injury, including three with acute liver failure, who also tested positive for adenovirus” in Alabama.

The state has nine cases in its cluster, including two children who required liver transplants between November 2021 and February 2022. It was the first US state to discover such cases.

“All children were previously healthy. All five of the nine specimens that were sequenced had adenovirus type 41 infection identified. Two patients required liver transplant; no patients died,” the Wisconsin DHS said.

Illinois has recorded three cases, including one severe case that required a liver transplant.

North Carolina has reported two cases. Delaware also confirmed a case in a child, after New York health officials said they were investigating cases.

Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to president Joe Biden, said: “It’s still a mystery.”

“It seems to be associated with adenovirus, but it isn’t a slam dunk,” he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Saturday said it was aware of 169 cases of rare acute hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, in young children in 12 countries.

Most of these cases, around 114, were in the UK, followed by 13 in Spain and 12 in Israel. Cases were also reported from Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Norway, Romania and Belgium.

The illness has affected young people ranging from one month to 16 years old.

Health officials have been asked to look out for symptoms of hepatitis that include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice.

Links of the illness to Covid vaccines have been ruled out as almost all children who fell ill with liver disease were unvaccinated, said the WHO.

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