In North America and Europe, about 200 children have been diagnosed with a strange syndrome that experts say may be associated with COVID-19. Over the past few weeks, a new string of cases have emerged in New York. Experts haven’t pinned down what this new condition is or why it’s affecting a small group of children. However, they’re on the lookout for more cases to try to understand why some kids are getting it and whether it’s related to the coronavirus. The illness appears similar to toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease, a rare but serious childhood heart condition. However, it doesn’t perfectly line up with either. Experts previously called this new disease pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS), but they now refer to it as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).
Kids with the illness often have a fever, rash, abdominal pain, or vomiting. The disease can be painful, feeling like “someone injected you with straight-up fire,” one teen who has recovered from it told the New York Times. If your child has these symptoms, call your pediatrician immediately — because early treatment is key. For the rest of us, luckily, this illness seems rare. Not many kids are getting sick with it, just like few get severely ill with COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know.
What Does Kawasaki Disease Look Like?
Kawasaki disease is a condition that causes inflammation in the walls of arteries throughout the body. It mostly affects children under the age of 5, though teens can get it too. In addition to fever and rash, kids with the illness may also have bloodshot eyes and swollen hands, feet, mouth, lips, and throat. Kawasaki disease is not contagious, but doctors don’t know what causes it, though they suspect viruses could be one cause. It can damage blood vessels and the heart itself, and even cause a heart attack if not treated promptly, according to the American Heart Association.
What Does Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (PMIS) Look Like?
The symptoms of the new PMIS syndrome don’t entirely match up with Kawasaki disease, and they also overlap with toxic shock syndrome, which is usually related to bacterial infection and can involve abdominal issues. Unlike COVID-19, multisystem inflammatory syndrome doesn’t attack the lungs and instead causes inflammation throughout the body. Children with the syndrome usually have a persistent fever, and many have a rash, stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. Some also develop red or pink eyes, swollen hands and feet, and red, cracked lips or a red, bumpy tongue like a strawberry, according to a New York health department fact sheet. They may also have inflammation of the heart and other heart complications. The condition can ultimately cause organ damage and even lead to death. Some children have needed treatment in an intensive care unit, including blood pressure support and a ventilator, according to a New York health department bulletin. Several young adults in their 20s have also been diagnosed with the condition, according to the Washington Post.
How Rare Is It?
In total, the U.S. and Europe have reported about 200 cases of the condition, according to the New York Times. For comparison, Kawasaki disease is a winter and spring seasonal disease that impacts about 5,000 kids each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials have reported 147 potential cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in New York City, and 3 children in the state have died, reports NBC New York. Several other states, including Louisiana, California, and Mississippi, have also reported cases, according to the Times. “MIS-C is a rare condition,” according to the New York health department fact sheet. “We want to reassure parents – this appears to be uncommon,” said Jane Newburger, a cardiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, in a press release from the American Heart Association.
Is PMIS Related to COVID-19?
Health officials aren’t yet sure if the new condition is related to COVID-19, but it’s increasingly looking that way. Most children with the syndrome either tested positive for the coronavirus or for antibodies (meaning they had previously been infected), according to an advisory from the New York Department of Health. The inflammatory syndrome can occur “days to weeks” after a child has COVID-19, the advisory adds. It could be a “post-infection inflammatory response” in which the body’s immune system overreacts to the coronavirus, doctors told The Guardian.
What is the Treatment for PMIS?
The good news is that treatment for the inflammatory syndrome is usually effective. The focus of treatment is suppressing the immune system. Doctors do this by giving the children steroids and antibodies purified from donated blood, called immunoglobulin therapy, while in the hospital or an intensive care unit. This treatment helps children’s hearts recover in the majority of cases, according to a new study looking back at treatment of 35 kids. Doctors may provide additional care to address other symptoms. Treatment can take anywhere from a few days to more than a week, according to Health Matters by NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
COVID-19 isn’t a normal disease. It causes oddball symptoms, such as loss of taste and smell. It likely leads to COVID toes, a toe discoloration that may be a sign of COVID-19 in kids without other hallmarks of the disease. Kawasaki and toxic shock symptoms are next in the long list of unexpected issues. It’s impossible to predict what strange complications are ahead, so stay vigilant. Keep an eye out for funky symptoms in your kid.