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First possible US death in unusual, severe hepatitis in kids under investigation

The death of a Wisconsin child from severe hepatitis is being investigated as potentially the first fatality in the U.S. from an outbreak found across 12 countries.

Four cases of unusual hepatitis in children, including one death and one liver transplant, are being investigated by Wisconsin health officials in the wake of previous reports of severe liver damage in children in at least 12 countries.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued an alert Wednesday, explaining that it is investigating at least four cases similar to a cluster of nine cases of severe hepatitis in children in Alabama, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert about last week. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can affect its function.

Wisconsin is at least the fourth state, after Alabama, Illinois and North Carolina, to investigate cases of hepatitis in kids not caused by hepatitis A, B, C or D, the most common viruses that cause the disease.

Officials in the U.S. and worldwide are investigating the unusual hepatitis' potential link to an adenovirus infection. Adenoviruses are viruses that can cause cold-like symptoms, such as sore throat, stomach pain or diarrhea.

If it is confirmed that the Wisconsin child who died had the unusual hepatitis, it would be the first reported death from the illness in the United States.

The World Health Organization reported on April 23 that at least 169 cases of acute hepatitis among children have been reported across 12 countries in kids ages 1 month to 16 years old, resulting in one death and 17 liver transplants. WHO did not specify in what country the death occurred.

WHO noted that the United Kingdom has the most cases with 114, following by Spain (13) and Israel (12). Adenovirus has been detected in at least 74 of the 169 cases reported, according to WHO. Since the WHO report, Japan and Canada have also started investigations into cases.

report issued Monday from health officials in the U.K. said 75% of children with the severe hepatitis who were tested for the adenovirus tested positive.

Health officials have reported affected children's symptoms to include jaundice, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting, as well as increased levels of liver enzymes.

There were only nine reported cases in the U.S. at the time of the WHO report on April 23. Illinois has since reported three suspected cases and North Carolina has had two cases, in addition to the four cases under investigation in Wisconsin.

The “vast majority” of affected children did not receive the COVID-19 vaccine, so the WHO said in its report that it does not believe the outbreak has anything to do with side effects from the vaccine.