Rare, sometimes fatal COVID-related illness is affecting children

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A 3-D rendering of the coronavirus (Getty Images).

(NEXSTAR) – About 2,000 cases of a rare inflammatory disease that sometimes leads to death have been reported in American children.

Called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, the illness appears to crop up weeks after a COVID infection or exposure — even if the case was asymptomatic or mild. The disease has also been reported, with less frequency, in adults.

“MIS-C is basically a post-infectious inflammatory syndrome,” meaning the disease causes inflammation in various parts of the body, said Dr. Roshni Matthew, a clinical associate professor in pediatric infectious disease at Stanford University.

Symptoms include fever, rash, pink eye, gastrointestinal issues, swelling of the lymph nodes and swelling of the hands, feet and face.

In severe incidents, MIS-C can affect the heart — these are the cases that have typically resulted in death, said Matthew.

Matthew said that there have been 2,000 U.S. cases of MIS-C reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since last May, though the caseload is likely much higher. Thirty deaths have been attributed to the syndrome.

If the heart is involved in the infection, the child will be typically treated with intravenous immunoglobin. If that doesn’t work, doctors may turn to other agents, including steroids, aspirin and other anti-inflammatories.

The most common symptoms of MIS-C, Matthew said, are gastrointestinal.

“These children come with severe abdominal pain to the point where they’re thought to have appendicitis,” she said. “That’s a pretty striking symptom.”

Matthew stresses that parents should reach out to their physician if they see any of the symptoms of MIS-C and their child has recently been exposed to COVID-19.

She also stressed that MIS-C is rare, and there’s no need to live in fear of it.

“The take-home message is that these entities are quite rare,” she said. “But the general public and physicians are aware of it, so you would be tested and treated for it [if you are showing symptoms].”

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