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The mystery of the Hawaii liver disease cluster in summer 2013: A pragmatic and clinical approach to solve the problem

Rolf Teschke, Alexander Schwarzenboeck, Christian Frenzel, Johannes Schulze, Axel Eickhoff, Albrecht Wolff


Background and aim. In the fall of 2013, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a preliminary report on a cluster of liver disease cases that emerged in Hawaii in the summer 2013. This report claimed a temporal association as sufficient evidence that OxyELITE Pro (OEP), a dietary supplement (DS) mainly for weight loss, was the cause of this mysterious cluster. However, the presented data were inconsistent and required a thorough reanalysis. Material and methods. To further investigate the cause(s) of this cluster, we critically evaluated redacted raw clinical data of the cluster patients, as the CDC report received tremendous publicity in local and nationwide newspapers and television. This attention put regulators and physicians from the medical center in Honolulu that reported the cluster, under enormous pressure to succeed, risking biased evaluations and hasty conclusions. Results. We noted pervasive bias in the documentation, conclusions, and public statements, also poor quality of case management. Among the cases we reviewed, many causes unrelated to any DS were evident, including decompensated liver cirrhosis, acute liver failure by acetaminophen overdose, acute cholecystitis with gallstones, resolving acute hepatitis B, acute HSV and VZV hepatitis, hepatitis E suspected after consumption of wild hog meat, and hepatotoxicity by acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Causality assessments based on the updated CIOMS scale confirmed the lack of evidence for any DS including OEP as culprit for the cluster. Conclusions. Thus, the Hawaii liver disease cluster is now best explained by various liver diseases rather than any DS, including OEP.

Key words. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, Hawaii Department of Health, Honolulu Queen’s Medical Center, OxyELITE Pro

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The Official Journal of the Mexican Association of Hepatology, the Latin-American Association for the Study of the Liver and the Canadian Association for the Study of the Liver

ALEH Hepatología CASL ACEF Médica Sur
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