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Mystery Inflammatory Syndrome In Kids And Teens Likely Linked To COVID-19


In recent weeks, doctors have been noticing something strange in children. They've reported dozens of cases of this unusual group of symptoms that they think might be related to COVID-19. We have NPR health correspondent Maria Godoy here to talk to us about what is being called Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome. Hi, Maria.


GREENE: OK. That's a jumble of words, but a jumble that sounds really serious, potentially. I mean, can you talk me through what doctors are seeing here in children?

GODOY: Well, you know, it is serious. But I want to emphasize that this is still really, really rare. So parents should not panic. The majority of kids who have gotten this and have gotten treatment, they are recovering. And they're doing well. As for the symptoms, they can vary.

But basically, doctors are seeing kids with a persistent high fever, really marked inflammation in the heart and some symptoms of shock, which means, you know, low blood pressure. Some kids are coming in with severe abdominal pains, vomiting, that kind of thing. And some of them, their hearts or organs aren't working properly. Basically, doctors say these kids seem to be having a hyper immune response.

GREENE: And to be clear, most of those who are experiencing this either have or have had COVID-19, is that right?

GODOY: Right. Or they've been exposed to someone with a disease. Doctors say symptoms can show up days to weeks after illness.

GREENE: OK. So to what extent do doctors seem to know that this might be related to the coronavirus?

GODOY: You know, they're still figuring that out. This is new. The first cases of this syndrome were flagged in Europe just a few weeks ago. And when doctors first saw these cases, they thought that these symptoms look like something you'd see with rare diseases, like Kawasaki Disease Shock Syndrome or toxic shock syndrome.

But those conditions, like Kawasaki, for instance, they're so rare that even seeing a handful of kids showing up with these symptoms in a short period of time, that was enough to set off alarm bells. And then, as it turns out, the majority of them have this common factor of testing positive for coronavirus or antibodies to it. And then there's the whole question of the timing of these cases.

GREENE: What's up with the timing? Why is that a question here?

GODOY: Well, you know, most of these reports are coming from places like New York and the U.K. a few weeks after they had a big surge in COVID-19 cases. And so that time suggests that a very small percentage of kids seem to be experiencing some kind of immune system over-response to the virus - at least, that's the theory.

GREENE: So New York, the U.K., are those generally the places where we're seeing this? Or it's been elsewhere also?

GODOY: There have been reports from Spain, Italy and France. In the U.S., doctors in Atlanta and in Wilmington, Del., tell me they're evaluating several suspected cases. New York state reported 64 suspected cases this week. But really, doctors are just starting to get a handle on this. And so they all emphasize the syndrome is really rare.

GREENE: And so what, then, is their message to parents at this early point?

GODOY: So most kids who get COVID-19 are having a mild course. In contrast, these kids are getting really sick. They might be listless. They're having high fever for several days. One doctor I spoke with suggested five to seven days. And they may have a rash, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting. They look really sick. So if you're a parent seeing those conditions, call the doctor.

GREENE: All right. NPR's health correspondent Maria Godoy. Maria, thanks a lot for this.

GODOY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.