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A Kansas City Hospital Sees Its First Case Of A Rare Illness Striking Kids With COVID-19

Children's Mercy Hospital has treated eight COVID-19 patients.
Children's Mercy Hospital has treated eight COVID-19 patients.

The bad news: An inflammatory disease that presents with high spiking fever is striking kids who have coronavirus antibodies.

The good news: The syndrome appears to be rare and most kids recover.

“This is just really a very small proportion of children that are developing this manifestation we’re seeing,” says Dr. Angela Myers, director of the infectious diseases division at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

One young patient at Children’s Mercy is being treated for the mysterious illness, which has been labeled Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome, or PMIS.

In some respects it resembles Kawasaki disease, a condition also characterized by high levels of inflammation. But the new illness is more virulent than Kawasaki.

As with Kawasaki, the kids present with symptoms like fever, rash, red eyes, swollen hands and swollen feet. But they also present with low blood pressure and inflamed organs, including the heart, kidneys, liver and lungs.

Children's Mercy Hospital / KCUR
Dr. Angela Myers is the director of infectious diseases at Children's Mercy Hospital.

“These kids are more sick and oftentimes need intensive care unit-type care and other medications to help them through it,” Myers says.

Children’s Mercy typically sees one or two Kawasaki patients a month. The young patient, who is recovering, was the first to be admitted with these new symptoms.

The question is whether the symptoms are caused by the coronavirus. So far, there appears to be a temporal correlation – most of the kids with it have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, or have developed antibodies to the virus.

“What we don’t know,” says Myers, “is if that association is causal, meaning that the COVID infection caused this to happen. And that is what is being investigated right now at a national and international level.”

Nationwide, at least 164 children have come down with the illness, including 102 in New York and a couple in St. Louis. Three of the New York patients have died.

A study of 10 children who presented with the illness was published this week in The Lancet and found evidence of a link between the coronavirus and PMIS.

Eight of the 10 children had antibodies to the coronavirus – and the other two might have had false negatives, the study said.

At a press briefing Monday, Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said government health experts were studying the illness and working with children’s hospitals to get a handle on it.

“It is serious and can be a fatal condition,” he said.

The American Heart Association, while noting that the condition is rare, said that because “some children are becoming very ill extremely quickly, children with these symptoms should be swiftly evaluated and cared for in hospitals with pediatric cardiac intensive care units as needed.”

Some doctors have suggested that the antibodies to the coronavirus are triggering an immune reaction in the body, but at this point, nothing has been proven.

Children’s Mercy has had eight COVID-19 patients since the pandemic reached the U.S. roughly four months ago. All of them have recovered or, in the case of the PMIS patient, are recovering.

Myers says worried parents should keep in mind that kids have generally recovered from the illness.

“I want parents to be reassured that, in general, when kids get infected with the COVID infection, they do very, very, very well,” she says.

Dr. Angela Myers is the director of infectious diseases at Children's Mercy Hospital.
Children's Mercy Hospital / KCUR
Dr. Angela Myers is the director of infectious diseases at Children's Mercy Hospital.

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3