Rare, Deadly Disease in Children Linked to COVID-19

There are no cases in San Diego, but county leaders are watching closely

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Across the country, children are winding up in intensive care units suffering from rare, deadly diseases researchers now suspect may be linked to their exposure to the coronavirus.

"What we need is information,” said Dr. Adiana Tremoulet, associate director of the Kawasaki Research Center at Rady Children’s Hospital. “What we don't need is fear right now."

Tremoulet urges families to remain as calm as possible, as evidence grows connecting COVID-19 to two life-threatening diseases in children.

A California baby is now the first case linking COVID-19 to Kawasaki disease, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

The disease, and a similar disease called Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome (PIMS), are hyper-inflammatory diseases that can affect children of any age and are particularly dangerous because if left untreated, can trigger heart failure.

Now, the CDC sent out an urgent alert to doctors nationwide about the link between the alarming diseases and the virus behind this pandemic.

The move underscores how little researchers still know about the coronavirus -- just months ago, health experts said it didn't affect children. 

NBC News found at least 17 states with suspected cases of PIMS linked to COVID-19, but there may be even more.

"It's probably in other states,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a recent press conference. “And hasn't been diagnosed yet in other states because these children don't present the usual COVID-19 symptoms."

Tremoulet had observed an interesting trend PIMS among the nations first infected with the coronavirus. The researcher says the disease follows the same curve as COVID-19 about one month after the peak.

"There may be a link there with the virus both with general Kawasaki disease as well as PIMS,” says Tremoulet.

Tremoulet says many children in the hospital with PIMS were exposed to family members infected with COVID-19.

"We're certainly not trying to sound the alarm,” Tremoulet said. “We're just trying to educate so our families know when they should seek medical attention."

Kawasaki symptoms include fever, rash, red-eye, swollen hands and feet, and red lips and tongue. PIMS is similar, but can also include severe abdominal pain and low blood pressure.

NBC New York's Melissa Russo reports.

While there are no cases linked to COVID-19 here in San Diego, county leaders are watching it closely.

“We’re following this very carefully with our local experts on Kawasaki disease and our local pediatric intensive care physicians,” said the county’s epidemiology director Dr. Eric McDonald.

Not all children are affected equally. Tremoulet says Kawasaki cases linked to the virus have disproportionately affected African American and Afro-Caribbean children, though researchers are still trying to figure out why. It may be because of the demographics of areas hit hardest by COVID-19, and not necessarily a genetic predisposition to the disease.

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