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'Scared Parents': No Cases Of Mysterious Illness Possibly Linked To Coronavirus In Children Reported In Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Local parents are worried after a previously unknown inflammatory syndrome is now being found in children living in coronavirus hotspots.

"We are getting a lot of scared parents," says Dr. Joseph Aracri, a pediatrician at AHN Pediatric Alliance.

"The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Health Department has already sent out material to all physicians, alerting them to the presence of the syndrome, and asking us to be on the lookout," says Dr. Terry Dermody, physician-in-chief and scientific director at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

It's called pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome. It has features of an inflammatory condition called Kawasaki disease with high fever, swollen hands and feet, swollen lymph nodes and a beefy-looking, strawberry-red tongue.

It also has features of toxic shock syndrome with very low blood pressure.

"Fever, rash, gastrointestinal symptoms, other evidence of inflammation, perhaps with a COVID history or not," Dr. Dermody said.

Some children test positive for coronavirus – either by PCR or antibodies – but some do not.

It's possible the new syndrome could be a complication of coronavirus that appears after the infection, related to the brisk, youthful immune system response. Or it's a new syndrome that is occurring at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic.

Of note, it's not just toddlers, as you would see with Kawasaki disease.

"The older kids, 15, 16, 17 years old," says Dr. Aracri.

With early treatment with IV antibodies, the kids do well. And they do well with another therapy.

"The old standard of aspirin has been useful in treating this condition," says Dr. Dermody.

Pediatricians reassure parents that this is extremely rare.

"With the hundreds of thousands of children worldwide affected with the COVID-19 virus, why just so few developed this inflammatory syndrome? Certainly, something is different about those children," Dr. Dermody said.

As for Pittsburgh, no cases of this illness at all.

"In our region, the kids with COVID have been doing incredibly well, with almost no hospitalizations," says Dr. Aracri.

"We diagnosed three children. All of those three children recovered quickly. Two stayed a single night with us in the hospital. The third, a couple of nights. In fact, we haven't had a case of COVID-19 at Children's Hospital in about three weeks," Dr. Dermody said.

Because it's new and rare and health care officials need to understand more about it, the new syndrome is reportable to the health department.

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