coronavirus

This Mysterious Childhood Illness May Be Linked to Coronavirus

Child.
Photo: Jill Lehmann Photography/Getty Images

Over the past few weeks, a growing number of children have been hospitalized with a mysterious illness that may be linked to the coronavirus. As of this week, hundreds of children across the country, many of whom also tested positive for the coronavirus or its antibodies, appear to have fallen ill with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C. Here’s everything we know.

What is the mysterious illness?

According to the New York City Health Department, the most common symptom of multisystem inflammatory syndrome is a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher that lasts for several days. However, children with the syndrome have exhibited a number of other symptoms, including irritability, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, rash, red or pink eyes, an enlarged lymph node on one side of the neck, red lips or tongue, and swollen hands and feet, which may also be red.

Though the majority of reported cases of the illness have occurred in children, some doctors told the Washington Post that they’re seeing the illness in people in their early to mid-20s as well.

While the illness appears to be relatively rare, medical experts have stressed the importance of seeking urgent medical care if symptoms occur. James Schneider, a pediatric critical care doctor at Northwell Health, told the Post that patients he’s seen with the syndrome have required blood-pressure medications, steroids, anticoagulants, immunoglobulin — and in rare cases, ventilators.

Is there a link between the syndrome and the coronavirus?

According to the CDC’s website, the cause of MIS-C is currently unknown. However, it seems likely that there may be some association with COVID-19. The CDC writes, “We know that many children with MIS-C had the virus that causes COVID-19, or had been around someone with COVID-19.”

New York, which has been the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., has seen a concerning rise in the number of children with MIS-C. On May 21, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state is currently investigating 157 potential cases of the syndrome, and at least three children in the state have died: a 5-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a teenager. A 15-year-old girl in Maryland has also died from the syndrome. As of this week, more than 20 states have reported cases.

In general, children seem to have mild cases of the coronavirus, though there have been some fatalities. Per the Intercept, as of April 30, 20 children in the U.S. who had tested positive for COVID-19 had died. Doctors believe the syndrome may be “a post-infection disease,” where the body’s immune system overreacts in the wake of infection — sometimes as late as four to six weeks after exposure to the coronavirus.

How common is it?

While U.K. health secretary Matt Hancock said at a daily press briefing that the rise in cases has left him “very worried,” other health officials are stressing that, at this point, the complication appears to be very rare.

“This is not something people should be panicking about,” Dr. Liz Whittaker, a member of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s allergy, immunology, and infectious-diseases committee, told the Guardian.

“So far, from what we understand, this is a rare complication in the pediatric population that they believe is related to COVID-19,” New York State health commissioner Howard Zucker told the Times. “We are following it very closely.”

This post has been updated.

A Mysterious Childhood Illness May Be Linked to Coronavirus