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Experts warn parents about possible outbreak of Kawasaki disease

Several kids have tested positive for an illness that’s similar to the disease

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More than a dozen children have been admitted to New York City hospitals with symptoms of a rare inflammatory condition that some health experts believe may be linked to the coronavirus virus, USA Today reports.

NYC’s health department said the pediatric patients (who ranged in age between 2 and 15) had symptoms normally seen in Kawasaki disease or toxic shock syndrome, including a persistent fever. More than half of patients had a rash, abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. 

Four of the cases tested positive for COVID-19, while 11 tested negative. Some of the patients required blood pressure support and ventilation, but no deaths have been reported. 

Experts are split on whether or not Kawasaki disease and COVID-19 are linked. 

“Kawasaki disease is one of the great mysteries in pediatrics,” said Dr. Frank Esper, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “It’s something we’ve been dealing with for decades.”

Esper said that the illness tends to infect mostly children during "mini-epidemics.” 

Cause of Kawasaki unknown 

Medical professionals still aren’t sure what causes Kawasaki disease. Some reports have hypothesized that the disease is caused by viruses while others have asserted that people may be genetically predisposed, Esper said. 

“Kawasaki disease is the boogeyman to pediatricians,” he told USA Today. “It’s extremely difficult to diagnose. Even with the most astute clinicians, we have a hard time figuring out who has it and who doesn’t.”

In late April, Britain’s Paediatric Intensive Care Society issued an alert saying there had been a spike in the number of children with “a multi-system inflammatory state requiring intensive care” across the country. The revelation elicited concern among the group that either a COVID-19-related illness was surfacing in children or that a different, as of yet unidentified disease might be causing the illnesses. 

"I will caution that there are many things that look similar to Kawasaki disease," Esper said. "It could be that what they’re calling Kawasaki is not Kawasaki but an inflammatory disease caused by the coronavirus." 

What to watch for 

Physicians say parents should bring their children to the hospital if they develop a fever along with a combination of any of the following symptoms: severe abdominal pain, confusion, diarrhea, red eyes, rash, swollen hands and feet, difficulty breathing, and passing out. 

Dr. Sunil Sood, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Northwell Health's Southside Hospital and Cohen Children's Medical Center, said he doesn't believe the condition causing these symptoms is Kawasaki. However, he says parents should be aware of it nonetheless. 

"Initially, I thought it was Kawasaki ... but it's going beyond those symptoms," Sood said. "Pediatricians and parents should be aware that there’s an outbreak of this right now."

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