Kids hospitalized with the mysterious syndrome mostly test positive for the coronavirus or its antibodies, leading researchers to believe the two are connected.
By Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder, Staff Writer
May 19, 2020,
THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN with a new and rare illness linked to the coronavirus is growing while researchers try to find out more about the condition.
As of Tuesday, the illness has popped up in almost half of U.S. states, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Louisiana, California and Kentucky. It’s also been reported in some European countries.
New York health officials are following about 150 possible cases of the syndrome. Three children in the state have died from it. In New Jersey, health officials are aware of at least a dozen cases.
Kids hospitalized with the syndrome mostly test positive for the coronavirus or its antibodies, leading researchers to believe the two are connected.
“We’ve heard of additional reports in a few countries, including the United States, including Italy, and so we’re learning that it seems to be a very rare syndrome,” Maria Van Kerkhove of WHO said at a press briefing last week. “But we need more information and we need more information collected in a systematic way because with the initial reports we’re getting a description of what this looks like, which is not always the same.”
As the number of cases grow, doctors are trying to learn more about the mysterious illness, which the CDC calls “multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children,” or MIS-C.
Possible symptoms include persistent fever, rash, abdominal pain and an inability to retain normal blood pressure, but researchers say there could be a much wider range of side effects, making it difficult for parents to know what to look for.
The symptoms are similar to toxic shock syndrome or Kawasaki disease, a rare inflammatory illness that typically affects children under the age of 5. The cause of the disease is unknown.
Michael Portman, the director of pediatric cardiovascular research at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says the symptoms of the new syndrome are generally “much more severe” than what is typically seen in Kawasaki disease. Like many aspects of the syndrome, he says it isn’t known why it is mostly showing up in kids.
“We’ve not been able to identify why it affects children and not adults,” Portman says.
Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci pointed to the new illness as a sign that, while kids tend to fare better than adults with COVID-19, there is much unknown about the situation.
“We don’t know everything about this virus, and we really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children because the more and more we learn, we’re seeing things about what this virus can do that we didn’t see from the studies in China or in Europe,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a congressional hearing last week.[
He added that people should not be “cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune from the deleterious effects.”
The CDC has said that the syndrome should be considered in any pediatric deaths if there is evidence of COVID-19.
Parents who think their child could have symptoms of the syndrome should contact a health care professional. The syndrome can be treated with intravenous immunoglobulin, steroids and aspirin.
It is unknown why the syndrome is showing up now and did not present itself in China’s outbreak of the virus. Portman suggests it could be because of genetic differences in the populations or a slight mutation of the virus.
“Of course, all of this is emerging,” Portman says, adding that it’s only been around for a few weeks. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Mike Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said Friday that he doesn’t think the syndrome represents a change in the virus.
He said that “as the number of cases of any particular disease grows to a very large number, you start to potentially notice much rarer syndromes.”
“What it means is when you get a very large number of children with the disease, you will see a very rare occurrence happen, and in a small number of children you don’t get a chance to see that,” Ryan said at a press briefing. “So it’s very important to reassure parents out there that this does not represent a difference in the way this disease causes disease in children or a different severity or a change in the way the virus is behaving per se.”
A study published in The Lancet documented 10 children who were recently hospitalized in Italy with symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease. The kids, all of whom survived, displayed side effects that were more serious than those diagnosed with the disease at the hospital over the past five years, according to the study.
“Although this complication remains very rare, our study provides further evidence on how the virus may be affecting children,” study author Lucio Verdoni said in a statement. “Parents should follow local medical advice and seek medical attention immediately if their child is unwell. Most children will make a complete recovery if they receive appropriate hospital care.”
The researchers warn that additional countries could start seeing more cases of the syndrome. They also said that only a very small number of kids infected with the coronavirus develop what they call a “Kawasaki-like disease.”
“However, it is important to understand the consequences of the virus in children, particularly as countries around the world grapple with plans to start relaxing social distancing policies,” study author Annalisa Gervasoni said in a statement.