As the number of cases of a potentially serious illness that health experts have said is associated with the novel coronavirus rises, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an alert for doctors about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, urging health care providers to report any suspected cases.
While reports of children being hospitalized with the mysterious syndrome first started circulating earlier this month, the CDC issued a formal health advisory on May 14 about the illness, which public health authorities have called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C. At least 110 cases have been reported in New York alone as of Thursday, including three children aged 5, 7, and 18 who have reportedly died from the illness, which was previously referred to as pediatric multi system inflammatory syndrome.
According to the CDC, children with MIS-C present with symptoms like a fever higher than 100.4 degrees that last more than 24 hours, a rash or a change in their skin color, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, or difficulty breathing. Children can also seem as though they are sleepy and confused if they are suffering from MIS-C, and are also likely to have come into recent contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, or will test positive themselves.
"There is limited information currently available about risk factors, pathogenesis, clinical course, and treatment for MIS-C," the CDC said in the new health alert. "CDC is requesting healthcare providers report suspected cases to public health authorities to better characterize this newly recognized condition in the pediatric population."
The CDC added that it's "currently unknown if multisystem inflammatory syndrome is specific to children or if it also occurs in adults."
In its alert, the CDC cited research from a recent study conducted in the United Kingdom that discovered a potential link between the rare but severe condition in children and COVID-19, but it is important to note the sample size for the study was quite limited. The research indicated that symptoms found in MIS-C are similar to another inflammatory disease found in children that has seen a spike across Europe called Kawasaki disease.
Kawasaki disease is the leading cause of acquired heart disease in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And while it is rare, Reuters has reported countries like Italy and France have seen cases of Kawasaki disease spike since the outset of the pandemic.
The New York state Health Department is currently investigating over 100 reported cases of the illness where "children — predominantly school-aged — are experiencing these symptoms possibly due to COVID-19."
"We're still learning a lot about this virus and we must remain vigilant because the situation is changing every day," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday. "We now have 110 cases of COVID-related inflammatory illness in children and I expect this is only going to grow. We are leading the national effort to better understand and combat this new emerging syndrome, and we want to make sure everyone is informed and is looking out for the symptoms of this illness in children."
The CDC's alert to doctors about this potentially serious illness in children comes as President Donald Trump pushed again for schools across the country to reopen. "I think that we have to open our schools, young people are little affected by this," Trump said during an interview with Fox Business Network. "We have to get the schools open, we have to get our country open. We have to open our country. Now, we want to do it safely, but we also want to do it as quickly as possible."
Trump's comments contradict advice from medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who cautioned against reopening schools too early. "We don't see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school this term," Fauci said Tuesday at a U.S. Senate hearing. "We don't know everything about this virus, and we really ought to be very careful, particularly when it comes to children."
More research about MIS-C is needed, especially since there is not yet a specific test for it or Kawasaki disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. For now, parents and caregivers should do their best to keep their children away from anyone who might test positive for the coronavirus, keep an eye on any possible symptoms, and encourage good hand-washing hygiene.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.