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At least five children treated in Illinois for rare syndrome with links to coronavirus

At the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital the cases began showing up in late April.

At least five Illinois children have been sickened by a rare condition with a suspected link to the coronavirus
At least five Illinois children have been sickened by a rare condition with a suspected link to the coronavirus
AP file photo

At least five Illinois children have been sickened by a rare condition with a suspected link to the coronavirus — one that took the life of a 5-year-old in New York this week.

A doctor at University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital confirmed Friday that they’ve had four cases of the syndrome, which can cause an inflammation of the heart muscle. Another case — with two more suspected — has shown up at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

The patients at Comer have ranged in age from a toddler to a teenager, said Dr. Julia Rosebush, an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases. All four are “stable,” although half had to be treated in intensive care, she said.

“They all are still requiring hospitalization ...,” Rosebush said. “They are not yet ready to be discharged.”

Dr. Frank Belmonte, Advocate Children’s Hospital’s chief medical officer, confirmed one case there Thursday.

“We are currently learning new things about this virus every day,” Belmonte said. “This is the first indication that children may be more negatively impacted than we first expected.”

A spokeswoman for Advocate Children’s confirmed that the hospital system has two more suspected cases.

The symptoms are similar to those of Kawasaki disease, including swollen hands, red eyes, a rash and a persistent high fever. But the internal inflammation is “light years away different,” Rosebush said.

“It is much more exacerbated,” she said “Their immune systems really just seem to be hyperactive in a sense. We are seeing inflammation out of proportion to what we would expect with a typical Kawasaki or a toxic shock process.”

Rosebush said hospital staff began noticing the cases toward the end of April.

Still, only one of the four patients has tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, Rosebush said, acknowledging current concerns about the reliability of such testing.

“I certainly know there is a lot of controversy about antibody tests,” she said.

Rush University Medical Center reported no cases as of Friday afternoon. And there were none suspected at Lurie Children’s Hospital, where Dr. Anne Rowley, an attending physician who specializes in infectious diseases, cautioned against drawing too many firm conclusions about the new cases.

“There is very little data out there right now,” said Rowley, a Kawasaki disease expert. “We need to learn a lot more before we know 100% whether [hospitals] just happened to get some patients with toxic shock [syndrome] and some patients with Kawasaki shock and they happened to get a few with COVID-19 shock all at the same time – and it looked like the same thing to them.”

But while Rosebush said it’s hard to predict how many more cases could show up in the region, she said, “I definitely think it’s something we should expect to see more of.”

If parents are concerned, a call to their child’s doctor never hurts, she said.

“Sometimes reassurance is the best medicine,” Rosebush said.