161 Severe Child COVID Syndrome Cases Now Being Investigated in NY: Docs Fear Undercount

Symptoms include persistent fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, enlarged lymph nodes and swollen hands and feet, among others

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What to Know

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the link between COVID-19 and a rare, potentially deadly syndrome in children
  • The syndrome has now been reported in nearly half the nation's states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. New York City alone now has 89 officially confirmed MIS-C cases by the CDC definition
  • Symptoms include persistent fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, enlarged lymph nodes and swollen hands and feet, among others

Days after the CDC confirmed a link between coronavirus and a new, potentially deadly syndrome in children, New York is investigating 161 cases of the illness, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday. He thinks that's just the "tip of the iceberg."

The cases span a wide age demographic, affecting infants to young adults, though most cases are in kids age 1 to 14. Ninety-two percent of the children displaying symptoms tested positive for COVID-19 or its antibodies.

Cases of the syndrome have now been identified in nearly half the nation's states, just weeks after News 4 first drew attention to the emerging illness in New York. Cuomo on Thursday praised News 4's I-Team for the work done to uncover the pattern of the cases in local children.

New York City officials confirmed to News 4 on Thursday that the city now officially has 89 cases of MIS-C, based on the CDC's definition of the syndrome, as well as another 43 cases under investigation. (The city had originally reported a higher number using an older definition of the condition, but had said it would restate its numbers to conform to the new CDC standard.)

New Jersey health officials added another four cases overnight, bringing the state's total to 19 as of Friday; several children remain hospitalized. A pediatric cardiologist at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center says his hospital alone is treating 12 very sick children right now, suggesting the number of cases in the state may be undercounted. He and other medical experts in the state believe New Jersey is behind New York on the curve of these new cases.

"We're all desperately hoping it slows down soon," said Dr. Rajiv Verma. It would be unheard of during ordinary times for someone in his position to be overwhelmed with cases, but that's exactly what's happening right now.

"I have talked to at least two teenagers who are scared that they're going to die," Verma said. "I don't lie to them. I tell them this is a very serious illness but we'll do our best to keep them alive."

Symptoms of the syndrome include persistent fever, irritability or sluggishness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, rash, conjunctivitis, enlarged lymph node on one side of the neck, red cracked lips or red tongue and swollen hands and feet.

Unlike COVID-19, a respiratory disease, MIS-C affects blood vessels and organs and has symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock. It involves a “hyper response” of the child’s immune system to the virus that can lead to inflammation of the blood vessels, and affect the heart’s arteries, leading to coronary aneurysm. It likely took time to identify the apparent connection to the virus because it targets different systems and manifests in different symptoms.

Early detection can prevent serious illness or death, officials say. Dr. Verma agrees, saying that while the experience can be traumatic for someone so young to go through, most children can recover fully if they are treated quickly.

"There's a teenager who came in on Sunday who was critically ill, and today she's actually smiling," Verma said.

De Blasio's administration has launched a citywide advertising campaign advising parents of the symptoms. The city's health department has also put out a comprehensive fact sheet for parents. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has told all hospitals to prioritize COVID-19 testing for children who present with them.

The CDC issued a health alert to physicians last week on the illness. The alert provides guidance for diagnosis of MIS-C. The diagnostic criteria include a fever of at least 100.4 degrees for at least 24 hours, evidence of inflammation in the body and hospitalization with problems in at least two organs (such as the heart, the kidneys or the lungs). The CDC also requires a positive test for COVID-19, the antibodies, or a known exposure within four weeks before the onset of symptoms.

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