82 New York City kids diagnosed with ‘mystery illness’ related to COVID-19

Maura Hohman
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82 New York City kids diagnosed with ‘mystery illness’ related to COVID-19

Amid increasing reports of a mysterious illness in U.S. children with COVID-19, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that there are now 82 suspected cases in New York City, and 53 of those cases have tested positive for the coronavirus or its antibodies.

The condition is referred to by the medical community as pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome. It's a rare but serious syndrome in which inflammation affects the heart and other organs and can send the body into a state of shock. Common symptoms include persistent fever, rash, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and red or irritated eyes. It can also lead to organ failure.

At this stage, it is suspected that the condition can arise while a child is infected with the coronavirus or weeks later. The link between COVID-19 and the syndrome has not been confirmed.

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As of May 12, NBC News reported that there are at least 100 cases across the U.S., in at least 15 states including New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Washington, D.C.

In early May, New York City's health department issued a warning about the syndrome and its symptoms.

In a statement to TODAY at that time, the city's health commissioner said: "We are alerting thousands of providers throughout the city of this recently recognized syndrome in children so that they can be diagnosed and treated early to avoid long-term complications ... To parents, if your child has symptoms like fever, rash, abdominal pain or vomiting, call your doctor right away.”

It's unclear both what about the virus may cause the condition — and how common it is.

"We’re seeing them every day that have required ICU admission every day," Dr. Steven Kernie, chief of Critical Care Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, told NBC New York. "We’ve been seeing one to two a day."

TODAY previously reported that Juliet Daly, a 12-year-old from Covington, Louisiana, showed possible symptoms of pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome.

After experiencing severe stomach pain, Juliet was airlifted to a hospital in New Orleans and later diagnosed with COVID-19. Her doctors believed the virus may have triggered cardiac arrest.

"I thought ... things were breaking apart really quickly and that everything is terrible," she told TODAY. Fortunately, she's expected to make a full recovery.

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The news of this rare syndrome adds to the list of outstanding questions about how the coronavirus impacts children. Kids have been largely spared from the most severe effects of COVID-19, but experts cannot yet say why.

To answer this question and others, the National Institutes of Health are conducting a study of 6,000 people from 2,000 American families. Participants, including children, will receive a nasal swab every two weeks to see if they're positive and can pass it to others.

"It's quite unusual for respiratory viruses to spare young children like this," Dr. Tina Hartert, the director of the Center for Asthma and Environmental Sciences Research at Vanderbilt Health in Nashville, who's leading the study, previously told TODAY. "Do they transmit infection as effectively as we see ... in adult populations? That's definitely going to contribute to us having knowledge about whether we should reopen schools (and) summer camps."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently stressed his concerns about COVID-19 and children to members of the Senate: "We really have to be very careful, because the more and more we learn, we're seeing what this virus can do."

While doctors say most children with the coronavirus are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, it's important to note that they're not "completely safe," NBC medical correspondent Dr. John Torres told TODAY's Hoda Kotb. "We don't know ... how many (children) are actually affected, how serious they are, what kind of outcomes they have."

He added that at this stage experts think kids are probably just or almost as contagious as adults.

If your child experiences the symptoms of pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, Torres suggests asking your health care provider if it's necessary to take your child to the hospital. If the answer is yes, be sure to address the condition with the doctor at the hospital.

"It's so new that not everybody might've heard of it at this point," Torres added.

CORRECTION (May 5, 2020, 5:38 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated that Juliet Daly is from New York City. She is from Covington, Louisiana, and was treated at a hospital in New Orleans.

This story was updated on May 6, 2020 to include a statement from the New York State Department of Health noting there are now 64 suspected cases in the state. This story was updated again on May 7 and May 10 and May 13, 2020 to include increased case counts.