Coronavirus And Children: Mysterious Illness Shows Up In Illinois

Coronavirus Child

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- A mysterious illness affecting children that may be related to COVID-19 has started showing up in the Chicago area after first being seen in Europe and New York. 

Though much is still unknown about the illness, symptoms include a rash, fever, red eyes or lips, swelling in the hands and feet, vomiting, and abdominal pain. It’s an inflammatory illness, meaning the body’s immune system “starts to rev up and attack normal tissue,” Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer at Advocate Children’s Hospital, told the Tribune.

Children with the illness can develop shock, which occurs when blood pressure dips and organs in the body don’t function properly. It can also cause inflammation of the heart, lung, and kidneys, as well as swelling of the coronary arteries, which are the blood vessels that feed the heart.

Most of the cases have been seen in children who have tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies - meaning they likely had COVID-19 previously, possibly weeks ago and may have had no symptoms and recovered. Dr. Stan Shulman, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children's Hospital said t least 75 percent or 80 percent of these children had positive COVID-19 antibodies.

I believe it is COVID-related...I think it is very, very likely that this is going to turn out to be a COVID-associated, COVID-triggered illness," he said.

"The name I prefer is pediatric COVID-associated multi-systemic inflammatory syndrome, and it seems to be children, COVID-associated, it involves lots of body systems like the heart, the lungs, the GI track, and there is lots and lots of inflammation," Dr. Shulman said.

He said while children are recovering, it needs to be taken very seriously.

Advocate Children’s Hospital, which has campuses in Oak Lawn and Park Ridge, has had one case of the illness so far, plus two more children who are showing signs of it, Dr. Belmonte said. The child with the confirmed case needed a ventilator and is in intensive care, though Dr. Belmonte said the child is “doing remarkably well.”

According to the Tribune, University of Chicago Medicine’s Comer Children’s Hospital has seen at least three patients who likely had the illness. At least one of those children needed intensive care, but not a ventilator. All three children, however, are now “doing fine,” according to Dr. Julia Rosebush, an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Comer, and one has been discharged.

The Illinois Department of Public Health was not immediately able to provide information about how many more cases there might be in Illinois.

Dr. Belmonte said the new illness is “probably still a very rare thing, but the kids can get sick enough that it’s good for us to be aware of it.”

Doctors are still learning about the illness as they see more patients, Dr. Belmonte said. He expects Chicago-area hospitals will continue to see more cases in coming weeks.

“We know so little about this now, that we’re trying to figure this out as we go along,” he said.

Dr. Belmonte advises parents whose children may be experiencing symptoms to call their pediatricians, who can decide what kind of care might be warranted.

Though fevers, rashes and stomachaches are common in children and can have many causes, Dr. Belmonte said that “if there’s concern, it’s better to err on the side of caution."