Rare Inflammatory Syndrome in Children Linked to COVID-19
Most children with this newly discovered condition recover with the right medical treatment. Here’s what parents need to know.
By Dr. Lisa Lacarrubba, Medical Director, Clinical Reengineering
Many parents take comfort in the fact that children have been largely spared from serious COVID-19 infections. But doctors in New Jersey, and more than 20 other states, are now seeing a new illness in previously healthy children that seems to be associated with COVID-19.
Multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many children with MIS-C had the coronavirus or had been around someone with COVID-19.
“Most children with MIS-C we’ve treated have done very well,” said Steven W. Kairys, MD, MPH, who is chair of pediatrics at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University. “While it’s relatively rare, parents should act promptly and seek treatment for their kids if they see symptoms of MIS-C.”
The syndrome, with symptoms often quite different from COVID-19, can be life-threatening because in some cases it can severely injure the heart or other organs.
MIS-C – first seen in Europe in April, but now being diagnosed throughout the U.S. – prompted the CDC to issue a health advisory alerting medical professionals to the condition.
As of May 26, New Jersey state officials report that the state has had 23 cases among children ages 1-18. All were hospitalized and 15 have been discharged.
Dr. Kairys added that MIS-C is not itself a virus or fever, but a syndrome caused by a problem in how the child’s immune system reacted to COVID-19. “In many cases, the child may have had COVID-19 but was asymptomatic,” he added. “Parents were often unaware their child had COVID-19 until after they were diagnosed with MIS-C.”
Know the symptoms of MIS-C
The CDC alert urges parents to contact their pediatrician if children experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Fever. Dr. Kairys said that MIS-C patients typically have a fever of 101 degrees or more for 3-4 days
- Abdominal pain
- Neck pain
- Bloodshot eyes
- Feeling extra tired
However, if children experience these more severe symptoms, parents should immediately seek emergency care:
- Trouble breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest that does not go away
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
- Severe abdominal pain
Dr. Kairys explained that most MIS-C patients he has treated have responded well to intravenous immunoglobulin therapy (IVIg), which involves using transfusions of donated blood plasma to help strengthen the patient’s immune system. Other physicians are treating MIS-C with steroids.
Both forms of treatment are also typically used in treating a similar condition, Kawasaki syndrome, an illness that causes swelling, redness and other forms of inflammation in blood vessels throughout the body. While Kawasaki syndrome typically occurs in children under age 5, MIS-C has typically been seen in children ages 5 to 14.
“Parents shouldn’t take the presence of MIS-C as a sign their child is going to go into (COVID-19-like) respiratory failure,” Dr. Kairys added. “The virus itself isn’t causing MIS-C symptoms; it’s the body’s inflammatory response to COVID-19 that is causing the symptoms.”
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ) is committed to the health and well-being of our members and communities, and that focus is further heightened during this pandemic. For more information, including questions and answers about your Horizon BCBSNJ plan’s coverage related to COVID-19, visit https://www.horizonblue.com/coronavirus-2019.