WI DHS investigating 7 cases of mysterious hepatitis in kids

(Dr. Erskine Palmer/CDC via AP)
Published: May. 30, 2022 at 4:02 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The number of sudden and mysterious hepatitis cases in children continues to rise.

At least 650 cases have been reported worldwide so far, according to the World Health Organization. As of Memorial Day weekend, more than 200 of those were reported in the United States.

Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services has investigated seven reported cases here in the state since October 2021.

“That we’re looking at and doing the follow-up interviews with the family and we’re also looking at the extraction of the medical records information,” Research Scientist and Epidemiologist Thomas Haupt explained.

Early on in the investigation, the state reported two possible cases with severe outcomes. One child died and another needed a liver transplant. However, those cases are not yet directly linked to the mysterious hepatitis illness... so they are not included in the state’s current investigation.

“The child that died did not die of hepatitis. Unfortunately, he had some other underlying illness underlying conditions that led to his death,” Haupt said.

Haupt said current cases are seen throughout the state “including your area, the Brown County and the Northeastern Wisconsin area.”

A majority of the cases are in kids under the age of five—too young for a COVID vaccine.

Haupt said researchers are 100% certain the cases are not vaccine-related.

So what is causing this sudden illness that attacks kids’ liver?

“Unfortunately, we have more questions than we have answers at this particular point,” Haupt said.

Common viruses known to cause hepatitis have been ruled out. One theory looks at the adenovirus—a common stomach virus—playing a role. Still, that is questionable.

Haupt explained, “because in Wisconsin, there’s less than half of our cases that have been positive for adenovirus...”

Plus, Pediatrician Dr. Donald Beno said not every case of adenovirus is a concern or requires medical attention.

“The hardest part of springtime is the season when children have stomach virus. Not every stomach virus is going to cause hepatitis. Very, very few will. If we’ve only had seven cases since 2021, we’ve had hundreds of 1000s of cases of stomach virus,” Beno said.

There is another theory that maybe something is triggering an auto-immune response where a child’s antibodies are attacking the liver.

“All this is still under investigation,” Haupt began. “That’s why it’s so very important that we continue to get the great cooperation from the astute clinicians.”

After the DHS sent a health alert in April asking doctors to report any signs of the illness, Beno said he’s kept a diligent eye on patients at Aurora Baycare Medical Center.

Beno said the biggest symptom of concern is yellowing of the skin and eyes, otherwise known as jaundice.

Health professionals, including Beno, are asking parents to be diligent and practice good hygiene by “encouraging children to wash their hands and not put things in their mouths that don’t belong there.”

The CDC also urges parents to watch for additional symptoms of liver inflammation:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • dark urine
  • light-colored stools
  • joint pain

The CDC has a webpage with the most up-to-date information on children with hepatitis of unknown cause.

A majority of the cases are in kids under the age of five—too young for a COVID vaccine.

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