When the coronavirus pandemic first hit Alabama and the rest of the country, it seemed children and young people had little risk of contracting the virus. Now, however, a mystery illness is affecting pediatric-aged patients in France, Switzerland, Spain, Britain, and the United States – and medical experts believe this condition is related to COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls the condition “multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C),” also known as pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS). The condition, which recently and suddenly began appearing in children, mimics the symptoms of Kawasaki disease or toxic shock syndrome. Doctors suspected a link between the coronavirus and PMIS, but had no direct proof.

Dr. Luiza Petre, a cardiologist and professor of cardiology at Mount Sinai’s School of Medicine in New York points out, “If we talk about the frequency of Kawasaki disease, even the specialists in this disease say they’ve never seen more than five cases at once in one hospital. So that’s something definitely suspicious about the timing between COVID and these cases.”

Now, a May 13 study from The Lancet medical journal shows some evidence of the connection. Researchers in Italy, an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, noted a 30-fold increase in cases of Kawasaki-like disease in patients between February and April, when the virus was at its peak.

“Our study provides the first clear evidence of a link between Sars-CoV-2 infection and this inflammatory condition, and we hope it will help doctors around the world as we try to get to grips with this unknown virus,” said Dr. Lorenzo D’Antiga, director of child health at Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital. “I have no doubt that Kawasaki disease in these patients is caused by Sars-CoV-2.”

What are the symptoms of PMIS?

The NYC Health Department, one of the biggest coronavirus hotspots in the nation, issued a fact sheet about PMIS to ensure parents are aware of this potentially life-threatening condition. Signs and symptoms of MIS-C or PMIS include:

  • Irritability or sluggishness
  • Abdominal pain without another explanation
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash
  • Conjunctivitis, or red or pink eyes
  • Enlarged lymph node (“gland”) on one side of the neck
  • Red, cracked lips or red tongue that looks like a strawberry
  • Swollen hands and feet, which might also be red

Additionally, most children will have a fever of 100.4F or more for several days. The fact sheet recommends contacting your child’s physician if they are showing any symptoms, as PMIS can cause an inflammatory response throughout the entire body.

Early intervention provides the best avenue for recovery, which includes fluids, anti-inflammatories like steroids, or intravenous immunoglobulin. PMIS is not contagious, but it is possible a child could have an underlying infection. Currently, hospitals are treating PMIS patients with the same protocols as they do with patients with COVID-19.

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