Doctors in the US and UK have raised the alarm over a reported increase in a condition described as “pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome” in children. New York City alone has reported 64 cases of children hospitalized because of symptoms associated with the disease.
One comforting fact about the pandemic is the virus has largely spared children. While children could carry their virus, the nimble immune systems that infants and children possess meant the virus posed little risk to young people. At the same time, physicians in the US and Europe are trying to raise awareness of the inflammatory condition that could be linked to COVID-19 infections.
Doctors describe the condition in question as having the symptoms of Kawasaki disease, a rare condition that causes inflamed lungs in adults but can cause inflammation throughout a child’s body. The condition can cause abdominal problems, neurological problems, seizures, and rashes, or induce a state of shock in children.
Uptick in cases
There is an ongoing increase in cases of the inflammatory syndrome, according to statements from several physicians in countries heavily affected by the virus, such as Italy, Spain, the UK, and the US. The condition has hospitalized dozens of children in New York state alone, causing the state’s governor to question a link with COVID-19 after two children and one teen died from the inflammatory disease.
The symptoms of the disease are similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome and do not match regular COVID-19 symptoms. The disease inflames the walls of arteries which can limit blood flow to the heart. Early symptoms include a high temperature for five days, a rash, swollen neck glands, cracked lips, redness in both eyes, and a swelling of the hands and feet.
Kawasaki disease can cause heart disease in patients later in life, making it the leading cause of acquired heart disease in the United States. Experts are now trying to understand its link with COVID-19 infections after most of the children found to have the inflammatory syndrome also had either antibodies or an active COVID-19 infection.
“Your immune system is overreacting to the virus, and because these are inflammatory diseases, this overreaction can cause a Kawasaki-like disease,” a pediatrician told CNN on May 9.
Awareness is key
The tragic deaths in New York stem from a lack of awareness regarding the disease and its link to COVID-19, according to doctors. The inflammatory disease does impact the immune system but is treatable and does not have to be fatal. “If these cases occur in our country, we can treat it without a problem, because there is a known treatment,” Cristina Calvo of the Spanish Pediatrics Association told Bloomberg on April 29.
Without an established causal relationship with COVID-19, awareness is essential to help parents and pediatricians recognize and treat the inflammatory disease. Italy has reported a higher number of children suffering from Kawasaki disease in areas with a high density of COVID-19 infections, which has prompted investigations into a possible link with the virus.
Pediatricians should recognize early symptoms, but should experts say this should not cause panic. While the reports of dozens of cases in New York are disconcerting, it is important to realize that the US has more than 70 million children, showing how rare the disease is.
The discovery does not require parents to increase concern over their children’s health. If children display symptoms such as a persisting high fever for at least five days, a rash on their torso or groin, bloodshot eyes, and bright red swollen lips, it is important to contact a pediatrician. Medical experts have successful treatments ready for the condition.
Although the symptoms might be frightening, Kawasaki disease is treatable and most children recover without complications. The only question that remains is whether the disease is linked to COVID-19, or whether it is an unfortunate coincidence.