Health officials said May 6 that dozens more children have been hospitalized in New York City with symptoms suggestive of a rare disease with possible links to COVID-19, multiple news outlets reported.
The number of children admitted to area hospitals has nearly quadrupled to 64, according to state officials cited by CNN, with doctors describing the unknown syndrome as “pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome” that bears some semblance to Kawasaki disease. With symptoms that can include high fever and peeling skin, Kawasaki disease causes swelling of arteries throughout the body, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The inflammation it causes tends to affect the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart.
“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,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner of the New York City Health Department’s Division of Disease Control, in a statement (pdf) on May 4, which noted that 15 children in the area had been hospitalized with the unknown syndrome and that many of them had been sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
Following reports of children being diagnosed with Kawasaki disease-like symptoms, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that parents should call a doctor immediately if they notice their children having persistent fever, rash, abdominal pain, or vomiting.
“We haven’t seen any fatalities yet, but we are very concerned by what we’re seeing,” he said. “We’re learning more every day about how COVID-19 affects the body. This is a ferocious disease.”
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot wrote in a tweet that health care providers in the city have been warned to be on the lookout for children exhibiting the above-described symptoms.
“We will spare no effort to protect the health of our City’s children. We alerted thousands of providers throughout the city of this recently recognized syndrome in children so that they can be diagnosed and treated early to avoid long-term complications,” Barbot said.
Daskalakis wrote in his statement that “the full spectrum of disease is not yet known,” adding that it resembled a condition that was recently reported by British authorities, who on April 27 published a bulletin (pdf) noting a small rise in the number of cases of “critically ill children presenting with an unusual clinical picture.”
The British notice, issued by the Paediatric Intensive Care Society, said many of these children tested positive for COVID-19 and that “the cases have in common overlapping features of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease with blood parameters consistent with severe COVID-19 in children,” according to a NHS England alert.
Daskalakis wrote that all of the first 15 children had symptoms of fever, either measured or subjective, and more than half of them reported rash, abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. Less than half had respiratory symptoms. Ten of the 15 children tested positive for COVID-19 or had positive antibody tests.
“When testing for antibodies, we are testing if someone had the virus at some point and if their body was able to clear the infection. When testing for #COVID19, we are testing if a patient is currently infected with the virus,” Barbot explained in a tweet.
None of the first 15 in New York with the unknown syndrome died, though all who were admitted to intensive care needed either cardiac or respiratory support, or both. Health authorities said more than half needed blood pressure support and five had to be put on a mechanical ventilator.
“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,” Barbot said May 5 in remarks to CBS News. “And thank God in this situation we haven’t had any children who have died with this Kawasaki or Kawasaki-like illness.”
In his statement, Daskalakis urged parents who suspect the above-described inflammatory syndrome in their children to seek medical attention immediately, as “early diagnosis and treatment of patients meeting full or partial criteria for Kawasaki disease is critical to preventing end-organ damage and other long-term complications.”
COVID-19 appears rare in children, and the vast majority of deaths due to the disease are in people with underlying conditions and the elderly.