What parents need to know: Symptoms of the 'mystery illness' related to COVID-19

The complication, called pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, affects children and has been seen in nine states around the country.
/ Source: TODAY

A rare and potentially deadly complication, thought to be related to the coronavirus, has been identified in over 100 children in at least nineteen states and the Washington, D.C. area.

The complication, currently known as pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, resembles Kawasaki disease and seems to affect the heart, but lacks the typical COVID-19 symptoms of a cough and shortness of breath. So far, the syndrome has appeared in children under the age of 15.

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Dr. John Torres, NBC News Medical Correspondent, warned that children can fall ill with the syndrome weeks after recovering from the coronavirus. NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren noted in a TODAY segment that symptoms can surface up to six weeks after recovery, but doctors are unsure how to determine which children are vulnerable.

Torres stressed that it's important that children who show symptoms receive prompt treatment, since as of now doctors can only treat the syndrome with "supportive care" like medications to raise blood pressure and return the heart rate to normal. Other treatments are currently being investigated.

Symptoms of the syndrome include:

  • A prolonged fever lasting more than five days
  • Severe abdominal pain, diarrhea or vomiting
  • Patchy blue or pale skin discoloration
  • Trouble breathing or rapid breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Rapid heart rate

"No one's exactly sure how it relates to COVID, and they're not entirely sure all of those cases are related to COVID, but in medical parlance, we call it correlation without causation," Torres said. "They think this has to do with kids' immune systems going into hyperactive overdrive, which is different than adults' systems, (which) can't get hyperactive when they have COVID."

Currently, at least 85 cases have been diagnosed in the United States, including 3 deaths, with two more deaths under investigation in New York. Pediatricians in Europe, including Italy, Great Britain, France and Spain, have reported seeing similar symptoms, and one death has been recorded in Great Britain. Torres said that while it's early, it seems that the death rate associated with the syndrome is around "0.1%," with most children recovering, although the statistics are constantly changing.

If you notice your child exhibiting the symptoms listed above, do not hesitate to take action.

"I would seek medical care immediately," Torres said. "Go to the hospital emergency room."

This story was updated on May 15, 2020 to include an increased case count.