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Rochester Doctors on Alert for New COVID-19 Complication in Children

Patti Singer

Doctors are looking at how the novel coronavirus may be causing a rare complication in children. File photo

In the early days of the COVID-19, there was a thought that children might be spared.

Recently, a very small number of school-age children and young teens have developed complications that are being labeled pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS).

The numbers are so small — about five cases in Rochester as of May 14 and approximately 100 in the state – that medical experts lack data to know whether children of color will be as disproportionately affected by PMIS as older Black and Latino people have been by COVID-19 and its complications.

While Blacks make up about 16% of the population in Monroe County, health department data on May 8 showed that they made up 37% of residents who had ever been hospitalized for COVID-19. At that time, they made up 46% of people who needed intensive care.

Information about PMIS being gathered from across the country will include racial disparities, said Dr. Patrick Brophy, physician-in-chief at UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital. “It certainly is something that people will be looking at.”

Cases of COVID-19 in Monroe County among people younger than 19 is not common — about 60 of the approximately 2,000 confirmed cases. So it might be expected that PMIS cases would be rare.

However, the complication can be life-threatening.

Symptoms include a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher for several days, along with

  • irritability or sluggishness,
  • abdominal pain without another explanation,
  • diarrhea,
  • vomiting,
  • rash,
  • conjunctivitis, or red or pink eyes,
  • enlarged gland on one side of the neck,
  • red, cracked lips or red tongue that looks like a strawberry, or
  • swollen hands and feet, which might also be red

Some of the redness or swelling could look like the child has hives.

Brophy and colleagues at Golisano Children’s Hospital said during a news conference that these symptoms are not contagious. Because PMIS can occur after a child has had COVID-19, wearing a mask, staying physically distant from others and frequent handwashing are important for kids as well as adults to reduce risk of transmission of the virus.

The symptoms of PMIS may come from an overactive immune system that, similar to what doctors who treated adult COVID-19 patients believe led to complications. But it’s too soon for pediatricians to be certain.

Brophy urged parents who have questions to contact their child’s doctor and not hesitate to seek care. He said the hospital follows a rigorous cleaning protocol, that it tests children for the virus and it maintains safe spacing.

“Don’t be afraid to come to the hospital,” he said. “Now is the time to do it. We realize this virus looks like it’s the gift that keeps giving.”