One of the toughest parts about dealing with a never-before-seen virus like COVID-19 is that there’s a lot we still don’t know. Each day doctors, public health officials, and researchers put another piece of this pandemic puzzle in place. Only 1-2% of all COVID patients are kids under 18 years of age. At first, it looked like the disease’s effect on minors was…pretty minor, while the elderly were hit hardest by the virus. But lately, a scary new COVID complication has cropped up among kids.

It’s called “pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome” and has been found in 100 children in New York State, killing three. Other states have reported this strange new illness, too (including, Louisiana, Mississippi, and California) as well, but fortunately, no deaths have been reported in those states yet.

So, what is this new mystery infection…and how worried should parents be? Let’s break down what we’ve learned so far.

Pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome is a complication that appears to go hand-in-hand with Sars-CoV-2, that’s the scientific name of the virus that causes COVID-19. This syndrome acts a lot like Kawasaki Disease, another pretty mysterious inflammatory disease that affects fewer than 20,000 kids in the U.S. each year.

No one really knows what triggers Kawasaki’s, but our best guess is that a virus or environmental chemical exposure causes a child’s immune system to totally overreact. This leads to massive inflammation with high fever, blood shot eyes (without discharge), strawberry red tongue, swollen lips, swollen hands and feet, joint pains…and even inflammation of the heart arteries. Fortunately, doctors have discovered some pretty good treatments that help kids to recover.

This new illness—pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome—also causes inflammation of different parts of the body in young children, but it seems to be triggered by a coronavirus infection.

If your child has been exposed to COVID-19, here are the symptoms to be on the look-out for:

  • Persistent fever

  • Blotchy skin rashes and peeling skin

  • Stomach pains

  • Tummy trouble, such as diarrhea and vomiting

  • High heart rate

  • “COVID toes” (look for red rashes on soles of feet or palms of hands…you can see some examples here, but heads up, it’s not pretty!)

  • Red eyes, similar to pinkeye, but without the discharge

  • Joint pain

  • Low blood pressure

Though treatable, if this syndrome progresses, it can lead to serious complications, including toxic shock syndrome (marked by a dangerous drop in blood pressure, flu-like symptoms, confusion, and a high fever) and heart issues.  

If your child comes down with a persistent high fever, rashes, peeling skin on the fingers, or any other symptoms above that have you feeling uneasy, don’t hesitate to call your doctor—especially if there’s been known exposure to COVID-19. Your provider can help you decide if your tot needs to come in for additional assessment or treatment.

Parenting in a pandemic can definitely prompt a flood of worries…but I hope that knowing the facts can also give you some peace of mind!

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.