Amber Dean had recovered from a mild bout of the novel coronavirus and her family of five had just ended their home quarantine when her oldest son, nine-year-old Bobby, fell ill.
“At first it was nothing major, it seemed like a tummy bug, like he ate something that didn’t agree with him,” said Amber, who lives with her husband and three young children in the western New York town of Hornell. “But by the next day, he couldn’t keep anything down and his belly hurt so bad he couldn’t sit up.”
At the local hospital emergency room, doctors suspected an appendix infection and sent him home with instructions to see his pediatrician.
It was only later, after Bobby’s condition took an alarming turn for the worse, that doctors realized he was among the small but growing number of children with a mysterious inflammatory syndrome thought to be related to the virus.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that New York is now investigating about 100 cases of the syndrome, which affects blood vessels and organs and has symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock. Three children in the state have died and Mr. Cuomo advised all hospitals to prioritize COVID-19 testing for children showing symptoms.
Similar cases have also appeared in Canada. On Wednesday, Ontario’s Health Minister said the province’s case definition of COVID-19 will now include multisystem inflammatory vasculitis, which may appear in children, even though the connection between this inflammatory illness and the virus is not confirmed. This announcement comes a week after Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said officials would look into the possible link between these symptoms and COVID-19.
In New York, which has reported at least 52 children sick with the syndrome, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday urged parents to call their pediatricians promptly if their children show symptoms including persistent fever, rash, abdominal pain and vomiting.
That’s what Bobby’s family did, even though they live in Steuben County, which has only 239 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and is in a part of the state set to start reopening some workplaces on Friday.
The family doctor performed a coronavirus test the day after his trip to the emergency room, but the results would take 24 hours. By that night, the boy’s fever had spiked, his abdomen was swollen, he was severely dehydrated and his heart was racing. His father, Michael, drove him to Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester, 90 minutes away.
“At Rochester, they did a rapid COVID test and it came back positive,” Amber said. For the next six days, she was at his hospital bedside while Bobby was hooked up to IV lines and a heart monitor. He came home on Mother’s Day.
“It never affected his respiratory system, it was his heart that it affected,” Amber said. Inflamed lymph nodes caused the abdominal pain, she said.
In New York, the syndrome has been found across a wide range of young people. A five-year-old boy, seven-year-old boy and an 18-year-old woman have died.
About 23 per cent of cases have occurred in children under the age of 5, about 29 per cent between the ages of 5 and 9, about 28 per cent between the ages of 10 and 14 and 16 per cent between the ages of 15 and 19.
In testimony Tuesday before a Senate committee on the administration’s coronavirus response, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci said children in general do better than adults and the elderly, but he warned there is still much to learn about the virus.
“For example right now, children presenting with COVID-19 who actually have a very strange inflammatory syndrome very similar to Kawasaki syndrome,” Dr. Fauci said. “I think we better be very careful that we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects.”
With a report from The Canadian Press
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