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What we know about Kawasaki-like illness in children linked to coronavirus

Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome in Children
Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome in Children

Cases of a rare inflammatory syndrome affecting children are being reported across the globe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling the illness “Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children.”

Dr. Camille Sabella, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, said it’s similar to Kawasaki disease -- which causes blood vessel inflammation and is believed to be triggered by a virus -- but emerging research shows subtle differences.

“What they found was that these kids are a little sicker, they have a few different features including they are more likely to have heart involvement,” he said. “But, the good news that I saw from this was that all the children did respond to therapy that we would normally use for Kawasaki.”

Sabella said most children with classic Kawasaki disease are under 5 years old, but kids diagnosed with the multisystem inflammatory syndrome are trending a little older.

He said heart-related problems, like coronary aneurysm and inflammation of the heart muscle, seem to be more common with this new syndrome.

Reports from New York City and overseas show some children with symptoms of the syndrome have tested positive for current or recent COVID-19 infection, suggesting a link between the two.

According to Sabella, we still don’t know what role COVID-19 plays in the new inflammatory syndrome.

Until we do, he encourages parents to keep a watchful eye on their kids and remember how uncommon the syndrome is.

“This seems to be fairly rare, so this is not really a time to panic,” said Sabella. “I would tell parents that if they notice something different, certainly fever in their child that goes on beyond a couple of days, especially if it’s associated with any rashes or pink eye, or swollen lymph nodes or swollen hands or feet, then certainly they should reach out to their primary care provider.”

For parents with questions or concerns, Sabella recommends calling their child’s pediatrician.

He adds that children diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome seem to do well when treated early, thereby reducing their risk for long-term heart-related complications, although the numbers of patients to date remains small.