Rare illness linked to COVID-19 sickening children

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Nicklaus Children's Hospital near South Miami has created a specialized four-room "unit-within-a-unit" to treat and isolate children diagnosed with multi-system inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C. - Nicklaus Children's Hospita/Miami Herald/TNS

A new federal report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention details how a rare but severe illness linked to COVID-19 is affecting children in seven states.

Illinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and California each had between 21 and 30 cases from March to July, according to an article released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts had more than 31 incidences each.

The illness — called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C — can generally appear two to four weeks after the onset of COVID-19 in a child or adolescent. Symptoms can include a rash, fever, red eyes, swollen hands and feet, vomiting and abdominal pain. It’s an inflammatory illness, meaning the body’s immune system revs up and begins to attack healthy tissue.

Nationwide, 570 cases had been reported to the CDC as of July 29. Among those cases, children stayed in the hospital for a median of six days; 364 children had to go to intensive care; and 10 children died.

The illness has, so far, been affecting Black and Latino children more than white children — similar to how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black and Latino people. Of the 570 cases nationwide, 40.5% were Hispanic or Latino; 33.1% were Black; and 13.2% were white.

Advocate Children’s Hospital in Chicago has treated about a dozen children with the syndrome, said Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer at the hospital, which has campuses in Park Ridge and Oak Lawn.

“Pretty much every kid we’ve seen with this has been pretty sick, and it’s involved multiple systems in their body,” Belmonte said. Most of the patients at Advocate Children’s have needed intensive care and many were put on ventilators.

Many of the patients who’ve been treated Advocate Children’s have been Latino, he said.

In some cases, the illness has damaged kids’ kidneys and doctors are also seeing inflammation and enlargement of the heart muscle, he said. He said many of the children, even after they’ve recovered, will need to have their hearts checked for at least several years to see if the illness caused lasting damage.

Still, he said, children seem to be recovering well from the sickness. They’re typically being treated with steroids and/or convalescent plasma.

“Children are the most resilient of all the populations,” Belmonte said. “We’ve literally seen kids on death’s door that have gone home after several weeks of hospitalization. They’ve made really miraculous recoveries.”

Though the report out of the CDC Thursday may be jarring to many parents as they prepare to send their children back to classrooms in several weeks, Belmonte noted that the condition is still relatively rare.

Though the symptoms of the illness sound common, Belmonte said the children Advocate has seen have been very sick, often acting lethargic, not responsive and not eating. He advises parents who have questions about their children’s health to call their pediatricians.

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