Child hospitalized in Windsor with possible symptoms of rare illness that could be linked to COVID-19

Windsor Regional Hospital's chief of staff confirmed on Wednesday that a two-year-old has been admitted to the Metropolitan campus with symptoms of a rare inflammatory illness that could be linked to COVID-19. 

The two year-old was admitted to the Met campus with symptoms connected to Kawasaki Syndrome

The two-year-old patient is doing well, according to Windsor Regional Hospital's chief of staff. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Windsor Regional Hospital's chief of staff confirmed Wednesday that a two year-old has been admitted to the Metropolitan campus with symptoms of what might be a rare inflammatory illness linked to COVID-19. 

According to Dr. Wassim Saad, the child was admitted overnight to the Metropolitan campus with a fever and a rash — two of the main symptoms of multi-system inflammatory vasculitis or variants of Kawasaki Syndrome. 

Saad said it's possible that the fever and rash developed by the two-year-old could simply be a post-viral reaction, but staff are nonetheless staying vigilant.

In addition to fever and a rash, Kawasaki Syndrome can cause joint pain, swollen tongues, hands and feet, as well as some gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea and diarrhea. The illness typically develops in children under the age of five, though the illness has been reported in some children older than that. The disease is considered treatable but has caused death in the some rare cases.

"It was presumed to be a post-viral-type entity and some people believe it to be an autoimmune disease where the body turns on itself and attacks those organs," Saad said. "For the most part, children who get Kawasaki's recover."

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COVID-19-related Kawasaki Syndrome is believed to have a similar effect as the normal version of the illness.

Saad said Windsor Regional Hospital issued a directive about two days ago to all emergency departments across Windsor, as well as Erie Shores Healthcare in Leamington, to inform frontline staff and physicians to be on the lookout for symptoms of Kawasaki Syndrome. 

Staff were told not to take any chances and health-care workers have been told to "immediately consult with a pediatrician and have [patients] transferred and admitted to hospital," according to Saad. 

The two year-old is currently under observation and is "doing quite well clinically," Saad said. The patient is also receiving treatment under the presumption that they have Kawasaki Syndrome.

"They're stable, they're not looking like they're going to require a higher level of care, like the [intensive care unit]," he added. 

The only way to really know whether this is COVID-19-related Kawasaki Syndrome is to do antibody testing ...- Dr. Wassim Saad, Chief of Staff, Windsor Regional Hospital

Saad explained that medical professionals believe that the current onset of Kawasaki symptoms could be a sign that a patient has previously been exposed to COVID-19.

"What happens is the immune system will fight off the viral infection, but it will remain active and then will turn on the body thinking that it is still trying to fight off the virus," he said.

Saad said it's possible the child may have been exposed to COVID-19 between four and six weeks ago.

"The only way to really know whether this is COVID-19 related Kawasaki Syndrome is to do antibody testing," he said. 

Dr. Wassim Saad is chief of staff at Windsor Regional Hospital. (Michael Hargreaves/CBC)

COVID-19 antibody tests are currently under review by Health Canada, according to Saad, who added that none of the child's family members have displayed any symptoms and no one in the family has tested positive for coronavirus. 

"If this child is still in hospital, or even afterwards, we can always test them to assess whether they had that exposure or not," he said. 

Saad said this is the first patient to show Kawasaki Syndrome-like symptoms since Windsor Regional Hospital issued its directive a few days ago. 

He added that if not for the global pandemic, the child could have been sent home with a post-viral syndrome diagnosis and prescribed anti-inflammatories. 

Dr. Theresa Tam is Canada's chief public health officer. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

On Wednesday, Dr. Theresa Tam — Canada's chief public health officer — said alerts to medical professionals have gone out across the country.

"It's really an alert to clinicians to think about what might be the underlying causes, because it's not specific to COVID-19," Tam told reporters. 

On Tuesday, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society sent an alert to clinicians enrolled in the Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program about the modified case definition, which is to be in place by next week.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to issue a similar alert.

With files from CBC News, CBC's Briar Stewart and Reuters