A mysterious illness believed to have been linked to COVID-19 is affecting more children across the country, and at least three pediatric patients in the D.C. area are being treated for it as doctors worldwide search for answers.
Up to five children in New York may have died from a rare but serious illness that doctors are calling pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome.
Symptoms are similar to a known issue called Kawasaki Disease, which could potentially damage the heart or blood vessels.
Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, the chief of infectious diseases at Children's National Hospital, is helping to treat the young patients.
"They tend to have no respiratory symptoms and are coming in with high fever, abdominal pain," she said.
DeBiasi says the newly identified syndrome appears to be the result of a child's immune system's going into overdrive after a COVID-19 infection, even though some didn't know they had caught the virus.
"Your body does what it usually does with antibodies to clear the infection, but then this response is either too much or too long or dysregulated so you're accidentally inflaming all these other parts of the body," DeBiasi said.
Pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome usually develops weeks after a coronavirus infection. Symptoms may include fever, rashes, abdominal and chest pain, changes to skin color and rapid heart rate.
NBC News has identified at least 85 cases in nine states and the District thanks to increased awareness.
As doctors search for clues to this condition, they're also searching for ways to treat it.
"We're not sure yet, internationally, if we should be targeting the virus or targeting the immune response," DeBiasi said, noting different treatments are being used. But knowledge of similar conditions like Kawasaki Disease can help guide treatment.
The new syndrome is rare and most kids will recover, doctors say. But it's important to know the signs, call your health care provider with concerns and visit the emergency room if needed.
Two of the patients in the D.C. area are improving thanks to drugs that target the body's immune response, DeBiasi said. There's no word yet on the third patient.
The emerging syndrome highlights that doctors and researchers are still learning about the effects of the new coronavirus.
"Emerging viruses make people uncomfortable. Not just the patients, but also physicians," DeBiasi said.