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The Latest on MIS-C Affecting Children With COVID-19

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Key Takeaways

  • Many children around the world have come down with an inflammatory disease now known as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), which is linked to COVID-19.
  • MIS-C is a serious but treatable disease that's still considered very rare.
  • Consult your pediatrician if your child is running a fever, seems unwell, or has any other symptoms of MIS-C as prompt treatment is crucial.

When the novel coronavirus was declared a global pandemic in March, parents were initially able to take heart in the fact that the virus seemed to have a minimal negative effect on children. At most, kids were declared “silent spreaders” and dodged the majority of the severe symptoms affecting hundreds of thousands of adults around the world.

But by mid-April, various reports of a mysterious inflammatory illness affecting children began cropping up. First in the UK, then in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. Experts were initially confounded but doctors soon established a link between this strange set of symptoms and exposure to COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Similar to Kawasaki Disease but not quite the same, this illness has been dubbed Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C. 

What Is MIS-C?

What is MIS-C, exactly, and why are children becoming ill? According to Leann Poston, MD, MBA, MEd, a pediatrician and contributing writer for Invigor Medical, MIS-C is a multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children that can involve inflammation in more than two body systems. “Often, this includes the cardiovascular system, renal, respiratory, blood, gastrointestinal tract, skin, and nervous system,” Poston says. 

Why Is It Linked to Coronavirus?

While it’s not yet known exactly what causes MIS-C, studies have revealed that nearly 80% of kids who experience this syndrome have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been directly exposed to the virus. What’s the correlation between this syndrome and the nasty virus circulating the globe? Mona Amin, MD, a board-certified pediatrician in Florida, shares the current thinking.

Mona Amin, MD

At this point, MIS-C is thought to be a late response to a prior COVID-19 infection. That means a child contracted COVID-19 and may have been asymptomatic or had minimal symptoms with the initial infection, and then 2–4 weeks later, develops this immune response to the initial infection.

— Mona Amin, MD

Still, your child’s chances of coming down with MIS-C are very slim, despite continuing increases in COVID cases around the world. Poston says, “There have been only around 200 reported cases of MIS-C out of approximately 5 million COVID cases worldwide.”

Symptoms of MIS-C

Despite this, it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for symptoms of MIS-C in your little ones, especially since they often don’t exhibit symptoms of COVID.

Ashanti Woods, MD, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician with Mercy Family Care Physicians in Baltimore, Maryland, says, "What makes this condition very unique is that it is a severe inflammatory condition in the body where one's immune system is believed to be attacking itself. Many children get very ill from this and need ICU-level care." 

What to Look For

The first indicator will be symptoms of most common childhood illnesses, like fever, fatigue, and crankiness. While there is a long list of symptoms to consider, Poston advises, “Since this is a multisystem illness, your child may have symptoms of inflammation of one organ system and another child may have completely different symptoms.”

So if you’re wondering whether you should head to the pediatrician or not, especially in these uncertain times, “use the same criteria that you would if you were concerned about any illness. If your child has pain that doesn’t go away, difficulty breathing, chest pain, any neurologic symptoms, or any other symptom that seems concerning or out-of-character, it’s definitely worth the trip,” says Poston. 

We’ve listed some other symptoms of MIS-C to be aware of: 

  • Abdominal pain with or without vomiting and diarrhea
  • Neck pain
  • Rash
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion
  • Bluish lips or face

Is It Serious? What Happens If My Child Gets MIS-C?

As much as we don’t want to hear this as parents, yes, it’s serious. “MIS-C is a serious condition and requires immediate medical attention,” urges Poston.

Leann Poston, MD, MBA, MEd

Children have been admitted to the intensive care unit and even placed on life support. If you are concerned about the symptoms your child is experiencing, never wait to contact your health care provider to discuss.

— Leann Poston, MD, MBA, MEd

But there’s good news, too. As mentioned above, MIS-C is extremely rare. With fewer than 300 cases and only three deaths globally, even the most serious cases can be expected to turn out favorably.

Amin says, “The outcome in patients of MIS-C is generally good. They’re being discharged home and recovering completely. Current data is reassuring of no adverse outcomes.” 

How Is MIS-C in Children Treated? 

If your child does come down with MIS-C, expect plenty of tests in a hospital setting, especially since it’s such a new disease. “We are still learning so much about this illness,” Amin says. “Based on your child's symptoms, his or her doctor may order lab work and imaging if warranted.”

Poston agrees, saying, “The doctor will screen for inflammation with blood tests, a chest x-ray to look at the heart and lungs, a heart ultrasound if symptoms indicate heart involvement, and an abdominal ultrasound if there are gastrointestinal or kidney-related symptoms.”

Currently, doctors are treating MIS-C with something called IVIG therapy, which involves using pooled antibodies from donors. “These antibodies help create an immune response. Additionally, steroids have been shown to have positive outcomes in the treatment of MIS-C,” Amin says.

What This Means For You

Although MIS-C is extremely rare—with fewer than 300 cases and only three deaths globally—it's important to monitor your child's symptoms and contact their pediatrician for treatment and advice. But try not to worry too much. Even the most serious cases of MIS-C can be expected to turn out favorably.

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Article Sources
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  1. CIDRAP. COVID-19 linked syndrome in kids new, distinct, study suggest. Updated June 9, 2020.

  2. CDC. For parents: Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) associated with COVID-19. Updated May 20, 2020.

  3. CDC. Information for healthcare providers about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Updated May 29, 2020.