Mysterious children’s illness with potential links to COVID-19 arrives in S. Korea
SEOUL — The first suspected cases of a rare inflammatory disease striking children and young adults have been reported in South Korea, according to health authorities, who issued special warnings as preschools and primary schools are set to resume in-person classes starting Wednesday.
Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Deputy Director Kwon Jun-wook said in a press briefing Tuesday that two pediatric patients are suspected of having the little-known condition, now called multisystem inflammatory syndrome or MIS-C.
One of them fits the preliminary case definition developed by the World Health Organization, he said.
Pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Eun Byeong-wook of Nowon Eulji University Hospital in northern Seoul said in a phone interview that the inflammatory syndrome mainly observed in children was accompanied by Kawasaki disease-like symptoms such as rashes and fever.
But there were other symptoms not observed in Kawasaki disease such as a drop in blood pressure, slowed cardiac contractions and sometimes toxic shock, he said.
Patients would be given anti-inflammatory drugs, including immunoglobulin injections and steroids.
Eun said the syndrome’s links to COVID-19 were still being investigated.
The WHO’s scientific brief, dated May 15, says that while the full spectrum of the syndrome is not yet clear, “Initial hypotheses are that this syndrome may be related to COVID-19.”
None of the 788 coronavirus cases in patients under 19 here have been severe so far, according to Eun.
The spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, is continuing in Korea with sporadic outbreaks, with the daily tally of new infections recording 19 on Monday.
Since the first case was reported Jan. 20, 839,475 people had been tested as of Tuesday, 11,225 of whom were confirmed to have the coronavirus.
Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo said in a Tuesday meeting of the Central Disaster Management Headquarters that additional measures would be taken to boost coronavirus protection for some 390,000 undocumented immigrants who may not be getting medical help.
“To stem transmission within communities, disease control systems should not leave anyone behind — especially those who are most vulnerable,” he said.
The minister once again warned against visiting high-risk settings such as bars and karaoke lounges, which have recently emerged as sites of fresh outbreaks.
On May 6, when the government relaxed its physical distancing guidance, a 29-year-old man with COVID-19 was found to have visited nightclubs in Itaewon, central Seoul, while still contagious.
Health officials have tested 41,340 people with ties to the nightclubs and confirmed that 118 had contracted the disease. A further 272 are undergoing testing.
In Incheon, a city northwest of Seoul, 66 high schools slated to reopen May 20 have had to postpone reopening as two students came down with the coronavirus after visiting karaoke facilities.
Amid the scramble to trace the source of the infections, health officials report difficulties in identifying those who have had virus exposure and tracing their contacts due to false accounts and incomplete registries.
In response, the government said businesses and other establishments deemed to carry high risks of contagion are required to keep a digitized log of all visitors starting early next month.
“Our best line of defense remains keeping good hygiene, wearing face masks in public spaces and exercising caution when socializing,” said Kwon of the KCDC.
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