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Rare “mystery illness” may be linked to COVID-19 in children

DETROIT – One of the most encouraging early pieces of information about the coronavirus was that it seemed to have little impact on children, but we’ve since learned that’s not always the case.

It’s still thought that most kids with COVID-19 are either asymptomatic or have minor symptoms. But because of that, few children are being tested, so we really don’t know how many are getting infected.

There is also growing concern that some children are suffering rare, but devastating complications. Now, experts are trying to find answers.

A new study by the National Institutes of Health hopes to determine how the coronavirus is truly impacting kids.

“We’d all like to know why children don’t get sick with the virus. Obviously, it’s very fortunate that they don’t. But it’s fascinating that they don’t because it’s quite unusual for respiratory viruses to spare young children like this,” said Dr. Tina Hartert, the research scientist leading a federal study that will focus on 6,000 people from 2,000 American families.

“Do they transmit infection as effectively as we see, certainly in adult populations? And that’s definitely going to contribute to us having knowledge about whether we should reopen schools, summer camps, children visit their grandparents,” said Dr. Hartert.

While children have been largely spared, there have been tragic exceptions, including 5-year-old Skylar, the daughter of two Detroit first responders. Skylar died from a rare brain complication.

Now, there’s a new warning about another rare complication. It’s being called “pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome.” Experts have identified about 115 cases worldwide.

The child’s immune system goes into overdrive, causing severe inflammation that affects the heart and other organs. That can send the body into a state of shock and cause organ failure.

Symptoms to watch out for include persistent fever, rash, red irritated eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.

This syndrome appears to be a very rare complication in kids researchers hope to learn much more about from reported cases in Europe and New York. But experts do want parents to be aware of the symptoms, and call your pediatrician right away if you notice them in your child.

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.