PIMS: the mysterious illness affecting children that’s linked to COVID-19

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Whitney Rosenthal and her son Parker stroll through Georgetown’s Montrose Park on May 11. Credit: Tom Williams, CQ Roll Call/ Reuters.

A mysterious illness affecting children in at least 17 states may be linked to the coronavirus. CNN reports doctors in these states are investigating potential cases in about 150 kids. Its symptoms are similar to a rare childhood ailment called Kawasaki Disease, also referred to as pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS).

"Sometimes the lips look very dry and red and cracked, or the tongue looks red,” says Dr. Jackie Szmuszkovicz, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and professor of pediatrics at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. “The whites of the eyes are red. Sometimes the hands and feet are swollen or red, or there's an enlarged lymph node in the neck. Some children seem to be having abdominal pain, or diarrhea without another explanation.

She says if your child exhibits these symptoms, together with a fever, you should contact your pediatrician. Infants with a fever for seven or more days but no other symptoms should also be examined. 

Szmuszkovicz says none of the patients she’s seen with this illness tested positive for COVID-19 at the time they were admitted. But the antibody test came back positive. 

“The positive antibody test leads us to believe that these children had a prior infection with COVID-19, and the PIMS condition is likely a late inflammatory response to their previous acute infection."

The coronavirus hasn’t affected children the way it has adults. A study last month from the Centers for Disease Control showed less than 2 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. in February, March, and early April were patients under the age of 18. For kids who do get it, the symptoms usually aren’t as severe.

Credits

Guest:
Dr. Jackie Szmuszkovicz - Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; USC’s Keck School of Medicine

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin, Kathryn Barnes