Nearly 300 children in the U.S. have developed a serious inflammatory syndrome linked to COVID-19 that damages multiple organs, according to two studies published this week.
The condition, known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), is uncommon. Researchers still don’t understand why some children develop the disease and others do not.
Most children recover from the disease, and deaths are rare. Six children among the 285 involved in the two studies died.
One study involved 186 children in 26 states, and the other included 99 patients with MIS-C in New York state. The articles, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, offer the most comprehensive reports of the new disease yet.
The inflammatory disease has similar symptoms of toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease, a rare illness of unknown origin that causes blood vessels to become inflamed. It can cause persistent fever, abdominal symptoms, rash and cardiovascular symptoms, as well as heart- or blood vessel-related shock requiring intensive care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define MIS-C as occurring in individuals younger than 21 years old with current or recent SARS-CoV-2 infection who present a fever of at least 100 degrees for 24 hours or longer, have laboratory evidence of inflammation, require hospitalization due to severe illness and experience problems with two or more organs.
An estimated 1,000 children worldwide have been affected by the syndrome, including cases in Europe where the disease was first reported, according to a corresponding journal editorial.
At least 35 states have reported cases, which seem to have emerged a few weeks after local COVID-19 activity peaked, Dr. Adrienne Randolph of Boston Children’s Hospital and lead researcher for the multistate study, told The Associated Press.
The patients involved in the two studies were diagnosed with MIS-C between March and mid to late May, but more cases of the disease in U.S. children have cropped up this month, said Dr. Randolph. Most of the patients had current or recent COVID-19 infections but had been healthy previously.
In the multistate study, 80% of children had heart-related problems, including coronary aneurysms, an outpouching of an abnormally thin portion of the heart wall that can be fatal.
Of the 99 patients in New York state, 29% of the patients met the clinical criteria for one or more of the following: hypotension, shock, severe cardiac illness or other severe end-organ illness. Six percent of patients had two or more of the following: rash, gastrointestinal symptoms, pink eye or issues with their skin or mucous membranes (such as the mouth and eyes). The majority of the New York patients, 65%, met both types of clinical criteria, according to the study.
The average age of the patients with MIS-C was 8 years. Both studies showed that Black and Hispanic kids and males were most affected by the disease.
A small study from a Paris hospital published in the BMJ earlier this month found that the inflammatory syndrome disportionately affected children of African ancestry. It found that 12 out of 21 (57%) children and adolescents with the syndrome admitted to the hospital were of African ancestry.
As of last week, more than 138,000 children have been infected with COVID-19, making up about 6.7% of all confirmed cases in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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