Fifteen children in New York City were recently hospitalized with a mysterious inflammatory illness that health authorities say could potentially be associated with COVID-19.
The New York City Health Department issued an alert to providers Monday about “a pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome” observed in some children and young adults in the city that has also recently been reported by UK health authorities.
Only a small number of cases have been reported in some European countries so far, and global health officials have reassured parents that the illness is very rare.
While NYC health authorities said the “full spectrum of the disease is not yet known,” the 15 patients showed symptoms associated with toxic shock syndrome or Kawasaki disease, a rare childhood illness that causes inflammation in blood vessels.
The patients, aged between 2 and 15 years, were admitted to pediatric intensive care units between April 17 and May 1, with symptoms including fever, rash, abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. Respiratory symptoms were reported in less than half of these patients, the health department said.
None of the 15 patients in New York City died.
Four of them tested positive for COVID-19, while 11 of them tested negative. Subsequent antibody testing turned up positive in six of the negative cases.
Five patients required mechanical ventilation while more than half needed “blood pressure support,” health authorities said.
“Even though the relationship of this syndrome to COVID-19 is not yet defined and not all of these cases have tested positive for COVID-19 by either DNA test or serology, the clinical nature of this virus is such that we are asking all providers to contact us immediately if they see patients who meet the criteria we’ve outlined,” NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said in a statement.
Barbot said the city’s health department was alerting providers about this “recently recognized syndrome in children so that they can be diagnosed and treated early to avoid long-term complications.”
“And to parents, if your child has symptoms like fever, rash, abdominal pain or vomiting, call your doctor right away,” she said.
Last month, health authorities in the UK sent out a similar alert highlighting a “small rise in the number of cases of critically ill children presenting with an unusual clinical picture.”
Many of the children had tested positive for COVID-19 and showed symptoms of toxic shock syndrome or Kawasaki disease, UK health authorities said.
“It is important to highlight that, both in the UK and in other countries, there have still been very few cases of critically unwell children with COVID-19 admitted to paediatric intensive care units,” the Paediatric Intensive Care Society UK said in a statement.
At a COVID-19 news briefing last week, a World Health Organization official said they were aware about reports in the UK and some other European countries about a “small number” of such cases among children but assured parents that the illness appeared to be “very rare.”
“There are some recent rare descriptions of children in some European countries that have had this inflammatory syndrome, which is similar to the Kawasaki syndrome, but it seems to be very rare,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said at the briefing.
While she said the reports of this rare illness were important for clinicians to better understand the possible effects of the coronavirus, she reassured parents that the vast majority of children who get COVID-19 have a mild infection and recover completely.
Scientists are still working out the effects of the virus on different organs. Some evidence suggests that the virus could attack the cells lining blood vessels, also causing damage via the immune system's resulting inflammation-causing response, which may be contributing to blood clots in some coronavirus patients.
As of Sunday, six children between the ages of 0 to 17 have died of COVID-19 in New York City, all of whom had underlying conditions, according to the health department.