Doctors worldwide are drawing attention to a small, but significant number of children hospitalized for COVID-19, who are also showing symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease, an uncommon inflammatory illness with no known cause or prevention.
The pattern of kids with COVID-19 also falling ill to Kawasaki disease has been reported in both Europe and North America. A New York city bulletin reported that happening to at least 15 children and teens. Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal confirmed 12 new cases of Kawasaki disease in the province over the last three weeks.
“It struck us as unusual to have so many at the same time,” Dr. Fatima Kakkar told CTV News.
Kawasaki disease symptoms
High fever, rashes, bloodshot eyes, swollen neck glands and “strawberry tongues” are some common early symptoms of Kawasaki disease. As it develops, children may experience abdominal pain, vomiting and peeling skin.
Before parents panic, it’s worth noting the low rates that are being reported. The inflammatory illness is rare in Canada, affecting 30 out of 100,000 children and predominantly boys under five years old, according to Kawasaki Disease Canada. With treatment, children recover within several weeks.
Not many Canadian kids have contracted severe cases of COVID-19. The Canadian Paediatric Society said children make up between one to five per cent of known cases, with the majority experiencing mild symptoms. Over half get fevers and dry coughs.
What is Kawasaki disease’s link to COVID-19?
It’s currently unknown if the complications associated with Kawasaki disease are connected to the novel coronavirus.
Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has said in press briefings that the country’s pediatric networks are investigating a potential connection between the illness and COVID-19. She noted that Kawasaki disease has been seen as “an immunological response” after kids contract viral or bacterial infections in general.
“There have been cases identified, but they haven’t been verified to be linked with COVID-19 specifically,” she said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is researching the pattern and its coronavirus technical lead Dr. Maria van Kerkhove has called reports so far “very rare.”
Dr. Adam Finn, chair of the WHO’s European Technical Advisory Group, cautions against jumping to conclusions. He used the U.K.’s 20 cases of Kawasaki disease as an example, reported NBC.
“Only around half these children are testing positive for coronavirus, so at this point we are not completely clear as to the causal relationship,” Finn said at a news briefing. “Although this may be a late complication of the infection with a hyper-inflammatory syndrome of some kind.”
What should parents watch out for?
Kawasaki Disease Canada urges parents to seek medical attention for children who develop early signs of the syndrome, as it can lead to long-term heart problems if left untreated or treated too late.
In-person check-ups are important as multiple medical tests are required to confirm Kawasaki disease, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Medications similar to aspirin and a specialized IV treatment for immune system disorders are usually administered.
If kids previously contracted Kawasaki disease, do they face COVID-19 risk?
There’s currently no evidence that suggests former cases of Kawasaki disease make children more prone to contracting COVID-19.