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Rare but Life-Threatening Disease Striking Children, Linked to COVID-19 

05-15-2020
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Alison Sondrup holds her daughter Alayna, 5, during a COVID-19 test from the mobile COVID-19 testing unit at Intermountain Orem Community Hospital, May 5, 2020, in Orem, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Alison Sondrup holds her daughter Alayna, 5, during a COVID-19 test from the mobile COVID-19 testing unit at Intermountain Orem Community Hospital, May 5, 2020, in Orem, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking doctors nationwide, especially pediatricians, to be on the lookout for, and then report to their state health agency, cases of a strange, new disease they may come across.

It's called Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, or PMIS, a rare but serious condition affecting children that appears to be linked to COVID-19, but health officials need more information before they are able to say with certainty that it's caused by the virus. 

So far about 150 children have been diagnosed with the condition. Three died and most others were hospitalized, often in the intensive care unit. The cases were reported in 18 states. However, the vast majority, 110 cases, were in New York, the state hardest hit by the coronavirus.  

Doctors say most but not all of the children with PMIS either tested positive for COVID-19 or had antibodies for the virus, indicating they were previously infected. 

PMIS seems to show up four to six weeks after infection and is a strong immune system over-reaction. Experts believe a child's immune system accelerates in order to fight the virus but then goes too far and begins attacking organs and tissues like the heart, kidneys, or blood vessels. 

Doctors say the disease resembles Kawasaki disease or toxic shock syndrome. Parents are advised to get medical attention if their child has any of the following symptoms.

  • Fever
  • Irritability or sluggishness
  • Abdominal pain without another explanation
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash
  • Conjunctivitis, or red or pink eyes
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Red, cracked lips or red tongue that looks like a strawberry
  • Swollen hands and feet, which are often also red

Currently, children with PMIS are being treated with drugs that help reduce the immune response, such as intravenous immunoglobulins and steroids.  

PMIS is not contagious, however, it may be acquired from a contagious virus such as COVID-19.

Like everyone, children are being advised to wash their hands often and practice other hygiene protocols and stay six feet away from others when possible. 

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