ATLANTA — At the beginning of the crisis, it seemed COVID-19 wasn't impacting children nearly as much as adults.
But that may be changing.
The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed more than 33,000 cases of the novel coronavirus in children 17 years old and younger in the United States.
And experts are now warning about a troubling new syndrome appearing in these young patients: Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, also known as MISC.
“I had never seen him sick like that before,” mother Bonnie Cato said about her 5-year-old son Dillon.
Dillon was sick in January, but no one knew exactly how sick.
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“He ended up having a fever over 102 degrees for 13 days straight,” Cato said.
She said at first, Dillon stopped being as active at their home in Pike County.
Then came the rashes and the swelling.
“His tongue was really swollen, and it looked like a strawberry,” Cato said.
Some 10 days after his first visit to a hospital, Cato told Channel 2’s Matt Johnson that doctors admitted him and diagnosed him with something called Kawasaki Disease.
“She’s like, ‘I’m not trying to scare you, but he could die from it.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ And it was like instant tears because I had no idea,” Cato said.
“I want parents to know in the big picture, this is rare,” said Dr. Avril Beckford, chief pediatric officer at Wellstar Health System.
Beckford said the new illness resembles Kawaski Disease, and is potentially linked to COVID-19.
“I think there’s so much overlap that it's really looking very close to a Kawasaki-like syndrome,” Beckford said.
The CDC sent a health alert to physicians on Thursday about the potentially deadly condition.
Experts say it could be a reaction to a current or previous COVID-19 infection.
Beckford said the sooner it's detected, the more likely it is that a child can recover fully.
“There’s a really narrow time window, so being aware, being alerted to the fact that COVID-19 may in fact be one of those causes is really important,” Beckford said.
There are no confirmed cases of MISC in metro Atlanta.
Doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta say they're monitoring possible cases.
“Children’s is evaluating a very small number of patients here that might have an association with that. The patients have done well but we have our infectious disease specialists, cardiologists, looking very closely to see if there could have been any link with COVID-19,” said Dr. Jim Fortenberry with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Still, doctors say it's no time for parents to panic.
“As much as it’s important for doctors to have this on their radar, we really don’t want there to be overbearing anxiety on behalf of parents,” Fortenberry said.
As for Dillon, he's feeling much better after what ended up being two months of treatments.
His mother said if MISC is anything like what her son went through, parents should know about it.
“It’s terrifying how serious that disease is, and if they hadn’t caught it, he could have long-term effects from it,” Cato said.
Three children have died from the MISC in New York. There are now about 20 suspected cases including in Georgia, according to ABC News.
According to the CDC, the suspected cases mean that a child has a fever of at least 100.4 degrees for a day, inflammation in the body and problems with at least two organs. The child would also need to have had COVID-19 or be exposed to someone with it.
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