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Doctors consider possible COVID link to unusual childhood syndrome

Posted at 11:35 PM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 23:35:51-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Doctors across the country are seeing children come down with a puzzling illness, one they believe possibly could be linked to the novel coronavirus.

So far, 85 cases have been identified in the United States. Symptoms start off similar to strep throat: fever, skin rashes, abdominal pain, and a strawberry red tongue. Symptoms can later develop into red, peeling skin on the palms and feet.

Doctors say the condition is similar to toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and Kawasaki Disease. Both are rare inflammatory diseases. Typically, Helen Devos Children's Hospital will only diagnose a handful of each illness every year, or every few years.

"So this is kind of interesting and scary in a way because what's happening is some children are presenting in hospitals, especially in Detroit, I think, is where they're seeing this - with this kind of a multi-organ inflammation." said Dr. Surender Rajasekaran, Medical Director of Research and ICU physician at Helen Devos Children's Hospital.

15 to 20 cases have been identified in the Detroit area. The majority of cases have been identified in New York.

"There's still so much we don't know about COVID-19, and in the beginning we were led to believe that the good news about this virus was it didn't affect children," Governor Cuomo of New York said. "Now we have a new issue that we're looking at where some children affected with the COVID-19 virus are becoming ill with symptoms similar to the Kawasaki disease or toxic shock-like syndrome. This would be really painful news and would open up an entirely different chapter in our fight against this virus."

In the past, medical researchers have suspected Kawasaki disease had some sort of viral element involved. However, a specific virus has never been identified.

"No one knows what causes Kawasaki. For years, people have suspected a viral agent. We've never isolated a viral agent right. We don't know what virus this is, but sometimes viruses tend to behave similarly," said Dr. Rajasekaran. "I mean, you could say that in some ways, you know, COVID and the flu… they're not the same disease, but there's some overlap. Symptoms are somewhat similar. And that's the same here. I think different viruses can cause Kawasaki syndrome. Most of the time, by the time the child has a Kawasaki syndrome, the virus is gone. So, there's no trace of the virus. It's now your immune system that's revved up and causing all the symptoms."

Due to the large clusters of children experiencing these symptoms, the World Health Organization is now investigating a possible link to COVID-19. Most pediatric patients have either tested positive for COVID or had positive antibody tests.

At this time, no cases have been identified in West Michigan, but doctors ask that parents know the signs and symptoms.

"I think with all the stress going on, the last thing you want to feel is like your children are super vulnerable to this disease. It kind of makes you a little worried, but we're not seeing large numbers. I would say that people shouldn't panic, you know, because of this," said Dr. Rajasekaran.