NYC officials alarmed with rise in rare disease affecting some kids with coronavirus, mayor says

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Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, wears a protective mask while touring the Malia Mills swimwear factory, which has pivoted to manufacturing polypropylene gowns for medical workers, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

Mark Kauzlarich | Bloomberg | Getty Images

New York City health officials are increasingly worried about a recent rise in cases of a rare inflammatory disease in children that may be linked to the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

De Blasio said health officials have identified at least 15 pediatric cases of an inflammatory disease similar to Kawasaki disease, an illness most common in young children and causes high fever and swelling in blood vessels. Children may also develop a rash and experience abdominal pain and vomiting, de Blasio said.

Four of the patients tested positive for Covid-19, 11 tested negative but six had antibodies for the virus, indicating a prior infection. 

All of the patients had a fever with more than half reporting a rash, abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea, the NYC Health Department said in a separate report. “Respiratory symptoms were reported in less than half of these patients.”

The number of cases is “enough for sure to say even though it’s uncommon compared to the hundreds of thousands of people who have contracted, this disease is still causing us concern,” de Blasio said. “If any child is experiencing these symptoms, particularly in combination, call your doctor right away. “

World Health Organization officials said last week they are investigating whether the coronavirus causes Kawasaki disease in children after several cases cropped up in Europe.

The WHO has asked its global network of clinicians to be “on alert” for such cases around the world. The coronavirus, which is primarily a respiratory disease, is affecting more than just the lungs, as first thought,  Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, said on April 29. 

Earlier Tuesday, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration, said the rare disease demonstrates that “we don’t understand this virus well.”

“It’s really a remarkable thing, after so many months with the virus, and so much reporting in the medical literature, we’re still learning a lot about it,” Gottlieb said on “Squawk Box.” “I think the incremental information that we’re learning leads us to believe that this is a much more fearsome virus than we perceived perhaps at various points.” 

Early in the outbreak, researchers and infectious disease experts said the virus appeared to be sparing children while hitting the elderly and those with underlying health conditions particularly hard.

Since then, researchers have learned much more about the virus, including that children do get it and can die from it, even without underlying conditions that tend to worsen symptoms. Most kids report mild respiratory symptoms, namely fever, dry cough and fatigue. However, some do children can become seriously ill. 

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