While most children who get COVID-19 have a mild or even asymptomatic illness, there are new reports that some children may have a complication that can be severe and dangerous.
Called pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS), it can lead to life-threatening problems with the heart and other organs in the body. Early reports compared it to Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory illness that can lead to heart problems. But while some cases look very much like Kawasaki’s, others have been different. Experts think that PMIS is likely a reaction of the body to either a current or past COVID-19 infection — but there is much we don’t understand, including why some children with PMIS have negative tests for COVID-19.
Symptoms of PMIS vary from case to case, but can include
There are many other conditions that can cause these symptoms. For example, strep throat can cause fever, rash, swollen lymph nodes, and a “strawberry tongue,” and there are plenty of common viruses that cause stomachache, vomiting, and diarrhea. Doctors make the diagnosis of PMIS based not just on these symptoms, but also on their physical examination as well as medical tests that check for inflammation and how organs are functioning.
We are just learning about PMIS. At this point we have many more questions than answers. But here is what parents need to know about this syndrome:
Many parents are afraid to take their children out of the house during the COVID-19 pandemic, let alone to a doctor’s office or hospital. That’s understandable, but it’s important not to let that fear endanger your child’s health. If you are worried about your child — for this or any reason — call your doctor. Together you can figure out how to get your child the care they need.
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For more information on coronavirus and COVID-19, see the Harvard Health Publishing Coronavirus Resource Center.
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