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Severe Kawasaki-like Disease Surfaces Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Photo: Kononenko

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports are surfacing in Europe and in the U.S. of a rare and severe sickness similar to Kawasaki Disease.

Britain’s National Health Service warned physicians of the disease in late April. On May 6, Wednesday, British researchers noted what they called an “unprecedented cluster” of eight children with the illness, in a study published in the medical journal Lancet. New York also reported on Wednesday 64 suspected cases of the mysterious new disease, which they named the “Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome Associated with COVID-19.” Other U.S. states such as California, Louisiana, and Mississippi have also reported cases. So have European countries like France, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain.

Kawasaki disease, which commonly affects children below five years old, causes the inflammation of the blood vessels. Its typical symptoms appear in phases; the first phase including high fever, rashes, redness of eyes, and a “strawberry tongue”; and the second phase including body aches, vomiting, and diarrhea. Kawasaki disease is one of the major causes of heart disease in children.

The children in the U.K.’s original cluster appeared to be healthy before exhibiting symptoms and requiring mechanical support for the heart and lungs. One of the them died due to stroke. Two out of four of the children exposed to COVID-19 later on tested positive for the virus. Majority of the children who were affected by the new inflammatory syndrome either tested positive for COVID-19 or showed signs they had been previously infected.

While Kawasaki Disease triggers coronary aneurysms, the new inflammatory syndrome mainly causes the inflammation of blood vessels and coronary arteries. The researchers noted it is a “new phenomenon affecting previously asymptomatic children with SARS-CoV2 infection manifesting as a hyper-inflammatory syndrome with multi-organ involvement similar to Kawasaki disease shock syndrome.”

Experts are quick to note though that it is possible the inflammatory syndrome is caused by another “infective or non-infective stimulus” and not just by COVID-19. The number of cases does not appear to be sizeable at the moment.

Parents are advised to immediately consult a pediatrician if their children display any of Kawasaki disease or the new inflammatory syndrome’s symptoms, such as fever, rashes, or sharp abdominal pain. Treatment typically involves the use of antibiotics, aspirin, steroids, oxygenation, or intubation.

It is still unclear as to why the syndrome only affects a handful of children.

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