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Arkansas doctors on alert for illness in children possibly linked to COVID-19

A rare illness in children is being linked to COVID-19 called multisystem inflammatory syndrome and has doctors in Arkansas on alert.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A rare illness in children is being linked to COVID-19 called multisystem inflammatory syndrome and has doctors in Arkansas on alert.

Right now, there are no cases in Arkansas. About 200 children have been hospitalized nationwide. At Children's National Hospital in Washington D.C., the number of children with the illness has grown from 5 to 23 in just 8 days. They range in age from 3 to 17.

"It's a new entity. I wouldn't say we're concerned. We know it's out there," Dr. Jose R. Romero, an infectious disease specialist at Arkansas Children's Hospital said.

The CDC came out with an alert about this syndrome last week and the first cases were described at the end of April.

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What symptoms are these children showing that parents should watch for?

"Fever— and a fever more than a day's duration. They're very severely ill. So, these children look very sick," Dr. Romero said. "Their brain can be affected, their heart, the kidneys, the lungs, the GI tract, the skin. They can have rashes, not all of them do."

Did these children who have it have any underlying conditions?

"No, these are normal healthy children that all of a sudden develop this for the most part," Dr. Romero said.

The syndrome is being compared to Kawasacki Disease and Toxic Shock because symptoms are similar and the same treatments can be used. But, they are not the same.

"The treatment is also supported because these children can actually have heart failure and require presser support," Dr. Romero said.

Doctors are still not sure this syndrome is 100 percent caused by COVID-19. But Dr. Romero said the peak of this syndrome in places like New York City showed up four weeks after the coronavirus outbreak. 

Most children have also either tested positive for COVID-19 or there is evidence of antibodies in their system.

"That leads us to the think the virus that causes COVID is causing this. But we haven't made a one to one link yet," he said.

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Is this inflammatory syndrome contagious itself?

"Most of these children do not have an active virus on them. So, for the most part, no," Dr. Romero said.

Dr. Romero said more states will likely see cases as we head into summer.

"A child that is acutely ill that is looking very sick or having difficulty breathing, that child you want to take directly to the emergency room," he said. "We are just beginning to understand the disease and hopefully will understand more about it as the summer goes on."