First Death Reported in Kids' Liver Ailment

Health agencies in US and Europe investigate 'acute hepatitis of unknown origin'
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2022 12:15 PM CDT
Updated Apr 25, 2022 10:45 AM CDT
Unexplained Cases of Liver Illness Among Children Concern WHO
An electron microscope image shows hepatitis B virus particles, indicated in orange.   (Dr. Erskine Palmer/CDC via AP)

Update: A mysterious liver disease affecting children in the US and Europe has claimed its first life. The World Health Organization didn't specify where the death occurred. It said it has received 169 reports of "acute hepatitis of unknown origin" from a dozen countries, with most of the cases in Britain, per the AP. Children from ages 1 month to 16 years have been affected, and 17 of them have needed liver transplants. Our original story from April 16 follows:

Unexplained cases of severe liver disease in children are increasing, leading the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other health agencies to launch investigations. No deaths have been reported, CBS News reports. Ten cases of children under age 10 in Scotland with severe acute hepatitis were reported to the WHO last week; three days after that, the number of similar cases among children in the United Kingdom had reached 74. A few illnesses have also been reported in Spain and Ireland.

Since October 2021, Alabama has recorded nine cases of hepatitis among children ages 1 to 6 of unknown origin, the CDC says. All tested positive for adenovirus, a common virus that the agency says rarely causes severe hepatitis in healthy people. Adenovirus also showed up in some of the new cases in Europe. Six of the ill British children have needed a liver transplant, per the WHO, which anticipates more cases. "It's important to note that not all diseases are reported at the state or national level," a CDC spokesperson said Friday.

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Tests have eliminated the usual causes of these illnesses: the hepatitis type A, B, C, and E viruses. Health officials said the spread of adenoviruses has been increasing, per the AP. Adenoviruses can cause coldlike symptoms but also inflammation in the stomach and intestines. The agencies also are looking into whether COVID-19 is connected to the cases. The CDC advises keeping children current on all vaccinations and ensuring they maintain a healthy diet and are active. (More hepatitis stories.)

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