The mom of a 7-year-old boy who was released this week from intensive care after spending seven days battling the COVID-related, multi-inflammatory disease affecting children across the U.S. has a message for other parents.
"The big thing is if your kid is sick, get them in right away and get them checked out," Hannah Peck, of Shelby Township, Michigan, told "Good Morning America." "I feel like if I hadn’t gotten him in or if the doctor had said it was just a stomach bug and to go home, we would be in a very different position right now."
Peck's son, Levi, was healthy up until the morning of May 2, when he woke up vomiting and with a high fever, according to Peck. When Levi's symptoms continued, Peck took her son to the pediatrician, who told her to immediately take Levi to the hospital.
"The doctor took a look and at that point Levi's eyes were turning red and his lips were getting red and chapped," she said. "The doctor said he was really dehydrated and he needed to get to the hospital right away because he could be having the Kawasaki-like syndrome that kids were getting."
Around the world, and more recently in the U.S., doctors are reporting a link between children who have or have had COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, and an inflammatory syndrome that has symptoms that overlap with toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease, a rare inflammatory syndrome typically affecting children under the age of 5.
The symptoms may occur days or weeks after exposure to COVID-19, and may present in children who were asymptomatic to the illness, doctors say.
In the U.S., ABC News has identified over 200 possible and confirmed cases of pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome across 19 states and Washington D.C.
Levi tested negative three times for COVID-19 during his hospitalization, but he tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, meaning he was exposed to the illness, according to Peck.
Doctors quickly transferred the first grade student to another hospital, Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, where he was treated by infectious disease specialists. Levi, who also suffered from severe abdominal pain, was ultimately found to have pneumonia in both lungs and was placed on oxygen in the ICU.
He was discharged from the hospital on May 12, one week after being admitted. Levi is expected to make a full recovery but Peck, a single mom, has no idea how her only child was exposed to COVID-19.
Peck said neither she nor her mom, whom they live with, has had any symptoms of COVID-19 or any known exposure to the virus, though doctors have told her it is likely she and/or her mom had the virus and were asymptomatic. Peck stopped working and Levi stopped going to school in mid-March and the family has followed stay-at-home orders, leaving only to pick up groceries at a curbside location, according to Peck.
"I never would have guessed that he would have had it or that this would have been part of it," she said of her son. "It was really scary and I’m very thankful that we got to walk out of [the hospital] and he’s okay."
What parents need to know
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health alert Thursday on the illness, which the CDC now calls "multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children," or MIS-C.
In order to have a diagnosis of MIS-C, the CDC says a patient must be 21-years-old and younger; have a fever of at least 100.4 degrees for at least 24 hours; show evidence of a "clinically severe illness requiring hospitalization" with multiple organ systems involved; have been COVID-19 positive within the past four weeks and have "no alternative plausible diagnoses."
The takeaway for parents is don't panic, but remain vigilant monitoring their child's health and call a pediatrician or other health care provider if symptoms like a high fever persist, according to Dr. Bishara Freij, chief of pediatric infectious disease at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, who was part of Levi's medical team at the hospital.
"They don’t need to panic but they need to get their child evaluated because the earlier a diagnosis is made, the earlier you intervene, the more easily you can reverse everything," Freij told "GMA." "It’s a collaborative effort by everybody but of course the parent is the first line of defense for the child."
Freij has so far treated four children with MIS-C at the hospital, including Levi, and said the most common symptoms among the patients have been a fever that has continued for three to four days and gastrointestinal problems, like vomiting and diarrhea.
"The other interesting thing with them is that they all have one thing in common from a laboratory standpoint, when we measure inflammatory markers, they are markedly elevated in these children, all of them," he said. "And they tend to progress fairly rapidly."
Freij also emphasized that all patients with MIS-C he has treated tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, and all developed complications later on.
"It takes minimum a week to start forming antibody and then usually in the second and third week you start having more measurable stuff," he said. "Even the patients who presented with shorter stories already had antibodies, so it looks like this is a post-infection problem where as your immune system evolves a response, that’s when you get in trouble."
The CDC in its latest health alert did not provide guidance on treatment for MIS-C.
"Basically children will get one or a combination of things, depending on what organ is affected,' said Freij. "Some method of dampening your immune response is required, traditionally high-dose steroids, but not for a long time."
Freij emphasized again that while cases of MIS-C are in the news, and will likely increase in the coming weeks, the condition is still uncommon and not something that should leave parents panicked.
"There is an alarm but there’s hope also," he said. "Just be vigilant and attentive."
What to know about coronavirus:
- How it started and how to protect yourself: coronavirus explained
- What to do if you have symptoms: coronavirus symptoms
- Tracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: coronavirus map