Rare Disease in Kids Possibly Linked to COVID-19
“We are learning that even though children are by and large mildly affected when it comes to COVID-19 that there can be situations that they are more severely affected.”
New York State issued a health advisory on Monday for an inflammatory disease affecting children. Officials were initially alerted when 15 kids from ages 2 to 15 were hospitalized with a “pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome.” On Wednesday, they raised the number to 64, CBS News reported. The disease resembles Kawasaki disease and medical experts believe it could be linked to COVID-19.
Similar to Known Disease
In a letter to her colleagues, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner of the New York City Health Department’s Division of Disease Control wrote, “A pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome, recently reported by authorities in the United Kingdom, is also being observed among children and young adults in New York City and elsewhere in the United States.”
Traces of the disease have been found in Italy and Spain, two of earliest epicenters for the coronavirus outbreak. While the disease can be fatal, a majority of children recover from it, CNN reported.
Experts have refrained from classifying the illness as Kawasaki disease, but they share many of the same hallmarks. Kawasaki disease is characterized by inflammation of arteries and blood vessels within the heart. In some cases, it can cause a restriction of blood flow to the heart.
Symptoms depend on which organs are affected, but include signs of shock. Common signs across all cases include fever, vomiting or diarrhea and skin rashes. Other symptoms can include swollen neck glands, swollen extremities, bloodshot eyes, and dry cracked lips, CNN reported.
The disease appears to be triggered in children who have already been infected with COVID-19. Initial tests in New York revealed 4 of 15 kids were COVID-19 positive and another six had coronavirus antibodies, an indication they had previously contracted the disease.
No Need to Panic
“We are learning that even though children are by and large mildly affected when it comes to COVID-19 that there can be situations that they are more severely affected,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot on Tuesday. “And thank God in this situation we haven’t had any children who have died with this Kawasaki or Kawasaki-like illness.”
Health experts have urged parents not to panic this week as new cases of the rare disease are reported, according to The Associated Press.
“We want to reassure parents — this appears to be uncommon. While Kawasaki disease can damage the heart or blood vessels, the heart problems usually go away in five or six weeks, and most children fully recover,” said Dr. Jane Newburger, an association member and director of the Kawasaki Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Kawasaki disease itself is not new — 3,000 children battle it annually. The link between the new, similar disease raised a red flag for medical professionals, however. Last weekend, officials from the US and other nations convened a meeting on the issue via a conference call, the Kawasaki Disease Foundation said.
They determined that children who experience symptoms of the disease should receive specialized care in hospitals that have intensive care capacity because the inflammatory illness can quickly worsen.
Changing How We Look at COVID-19
The World Health Organization is researching whether COVID-19 and the inflammatory illness in children is linked, CNBC reported. However, as both are relatively new illnesses, there is a significant amount of studying to be done before a definite line can be drawn between the two.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the US Food and Drug Administration said the new development challenges the initial perception that the coronavirus leaves children unscathed.
“There was a notion that this wasn’t really affecting kids. It does appear that there are kids being affected by it,” said Gottlieb, a CNBC contributor and board member of Pfizer and Illumina. “We certainly know that there are children who’ve been hospitalized and gotten very sick, but now it appears there’s some unusual phenomena that are affecting children, not in high numbers.”
Consequently, the coronavirus, he added, could be “much more fearsome” than health experts initially thought.