Multiple Children in Mass. Sickened by Deadly Coronavirus-Related Illness

The new pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome is believed to be linked to COVID-19

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What to Know

  • Pediatric multi-system inflammatory system is now being seen across the country and is striking newborns and teenagers alike
  • Up to 5 children have already died and 93 have been diagnosed with the condition in New York
  • The condition occurs six weeks after a child is exposed to COVID-19; common symptoms include fever, inflammation and rash

As hospitals start to get a handle on coronavirus cases, in some states a new health concern has arisen — this time in children.

"It's causing fever, inflammation and rash, said Dr. Jeffrey Burns, chief of Critical Care Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital. He said they first noticed it in Europe in April, and to date they have seen at least four cases at Children's Hospital.

"It's occurring about six weeks after a child may have been exposed to a COVID-19 infection," he said.

A complication of the coronavirus not even acknowledged by many a week ago, the new condition is now being seen across the country and is striking newborns and teenagers alike.

After fighting off the virus, a child's immune system is in overdrive and can cause an inflammatory syndrome -- similar to toxic shock or what's called Kawasaki disease -- that affects the skin, eyes and blood vessels, and can be deadly.

Travel is increasing amid the coronavirus oubtreak, which exacerbates the risk of infection, officials say.

Dr. Paul Sax works in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital. And in recent days they've noticed the recent rise of what is being called pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome.

"The long-term consequences are the involvement of the arteries of the heart, and that's actually in many ways the most dangerous consequence and something that kids have to be monitored for long-term," he said.

In the short term, doctors say cases are rare. But concern is rising.

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In New York, the country's epicenter for the coronavirus, they are investigating up to five deaths and more than 90 cases of the illness in children.

"As it turns out, these children happened to have the COVID antibodies, or be positive for COVID, but those were not the symptoms they showed when they came into the hospital system," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.

The New York State Department of Health is working in partnership with the CDC to develop national criteria for the health departments and hospital systems in the 49 other states to help them identify, track and respond to help children exhibiting symptoms, Gov. Cuomo said. Doctors in the state say children are not presenting with symptoms until 4 to 6 weeks after exposure to the virus.

Three children at Yale New Haven Children's Hospital are also being treated for the new disease, the hospital system and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont confirmed Monday. Connecticut Children's Medical Center also has three cases under investigation that are suspected to be the same condition.

The number of people who have recovered from coronavirus in Massachusetts remains unclear.

So what are the symptoms? Health officials said the children had a fever, and more than half reported having rashes, abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea. While it has been considered a direct symptom of COVID-19, less than half of the pediatric patients in the city displayed any shortness of breath.

While health experts anticipate they'll see more cases here in Massachusetts, they believe the risk remains low.

"Parents should be reassured that this remains very infrequent and children are by and large tolerating this pandemic in ways we wish adults were," Burns said.

The state Department of Public Health says it is gathering data right now from hospitals to try to figure out how many cases there could be in Massachusetts. They hope to have those numbers by the end of the week.

"We are all, I can assure you, communicating daily about the various manifestations of COVID-19," Sax said. "Staying up to date on it is our full-time job."

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