NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A puzzling new illness has surfaced among children, and medical experts believe it may be connected to COVID-19.
At least 15 young people between the ages of 2 and 15 in New York City have been hospitalized with the inflammatory disease, which is is similar to Kawasaki syndrome, a rare blood vessel disorder.
“Even though it’s uncommon, compared to the hundreds of thousands of people who have contracted this disease, it’s still causing us concern,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.
Of the 15 hospitalized, four tested positive for COVID-19. Of the negative, six had coronavirus antibodies, suggesting they had been infected earlier, CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported.
“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. And thank God in this situation we haven’t had any children who have died with this Kawasaki or Kawasaki-like illness,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot added.
There are a growing number of cases being reported on Long Island and New Jersey as well.
- Abdominal pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Inflammation in the eyes
Dr. Barbot described the Kawasaki-like disease as follows:
“Generally, children present with prolonged high fevers, several days of very high fevers. They can also have very red eyes, very brightly colored lips. One of the hallmarks that we see is what we call a strawberry tongue, which means their tongue is very bright and red,” Dr. Barbot said. “The other symptoms children can have are a rash. They can have swelling of their hands and feet.
“Generally, if the condition is identified early, there is definitive treatment, and there are typically no long-term consequences,” she continued. “However, if the syndrome is not identified early, there can be long-term consequences, most commonly related to ongoing heart problems.”
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Two weeks ago, 14-year-old Jack McMorrow had a rash on his hands and then a fever of over 104 degrees. He was rushed to the ICU, where he tested positive for COVID-19, Gainer reported.
“His heart rate was over 160,” father John McMorrow told CBS News. “It was the scariest point in my life. There was nothing anyone could do. They prepared me for the worst.”
The teenager finally responded to steroid treatment and his heart function is being monitored at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in Washington Heights.
Dr. Barbot said cases have also been identified in the U.K., Philadelphia and Boston.
“We’re not sure what to make of this yet, and as I’ve said several times in the past, we’re still learning every day about how COVID-19 behaves, not only from a public health point of view but from a clinical point of view,” she said.
“We can’t say for sure that it’s COVID, but it certainly would be a big coincidence. We’ve never seen anything like this before with all these kids with inflammatory syndrome,” said Dr. Aryeh Baer, a pediatric infectious disease specialist.
Dr. Baer said he’s treated five children with those symptoms at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack, N.J., though none of them tested positive for COVID-19.
He said adults are exhibiting similar symptoms when their immune systems overreact while fighting off the virus.
“Maybe this is the equivalent in children, this exaggerated response. That’s why we’re not seeing positive results on the COVID testing. Maybe they had a really mild illness or were asymptomatic and now they have the autoimmune phase,” Baer said.
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Dr. Baer added his patients all recovered with supporting care, including antibiotics and blood pressure medication.
New York City’s Department of Health issued a health alert, asking doctors to report similar cases.
Hospitals are also working with the state Department of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics to track, report and determine what’s causing these unusual cases.