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Here’s What Experts Know So Far About Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome and COVID-19

A disease doctors are calling “pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome” (PMIS) is causing concern, especially for parents of young children.

Symptoms of the illness—moderate to high fever, along with abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and rashes—appear to be similar to Kawasaki disease, a condition most often seen in infants and young children under 5. On May 12, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state's health department is investigating "about 100 possible cases" of the illness. Sadly, three children in New York have died of the condition while two additional deaths are under investigation, the governor also said at the time.

Children elsewhere across the United States have also been hospitalized due to PMIS, while cases have been seen in Europe as well.

The link between pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome and COVID-19

PMIS is believed to be related to COVID-19, although experts are still working to understand exactly how. The timing of the uptick in PMIS cases comes shortly after cases of coronavirus in the U.S. have rapidly increased.

“The timing of this unusual cluster of ill children,” says pediatric infectious disease specialist Aryeh Baer, M.D., “in the midst of the current global pandemic, raises the possibility that this may be a syndrome caused by the immune response to this new virus.”

While COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, PMIS affects organs and blood vessels.

Testing shows that while most children who have gotten sick with PMIS did not report having a recent respiratory illness, some may have had prior coronavirus exposure. "This suggests that these children were either exposed to the coronavirus but didn’t get sick, or that they had very mild symptoms"" said Dr. George Ofori-Amanfo, M.D., the division chief of pediatric critical care medicine at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital.

COVID-19 in children: an emerging picture

From the beginning, evidence has suggested that children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults. The Center for Disease Control notes that while some children and infants have fallen sick with COVID-19, adults make up most of the known cases to date.

“The best evidence to date, is that children rarely become critically ill from COVID-19, or from this pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome,” says Jeffrey Burns, MD, MPH, chief of Critical Care Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. However, it’s important to adhere to the CDC’s guidelines for protecting children from COVID-19.

Practicing good hygiene and avoiding close contact with others is the best way to prevent the spread. Children over the age of two should also wear a cloth face mask if they are in a public setting where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain and especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

You should always consult your doctor if concerns over the health of your children arise.

As the world’s leading expert on childhood, Save the Children is here to help. Visit Coronavirus and Kids: Resources from Save the Children for more tools and tips you can trust for parents, caregivers, teachers and all those who care about children in crisis.

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