Los Angeles County has been buried by a post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases. On its heels, we can expect to see an increase in cases of a COVID-related syndrome in children called MIS-C. The letters stand for Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children. It’s rare and can be dangerous, but is highly treatable if caught early.
As of Jan. 14, the L.A. County Public Health Department was reporting a continued increase in coronavirus spread within the community, citing a total of 975,299 cases across the county since the pandemic’s onset, and more than 13,000 deaths. The department most recently reported MIS-C statistics Jan. 9, logging a total of 54 cases in L.A. County, including one death.
“We definitely see MIS-C cases going up a couple of weeks after the numbers of COVID-19 cases in the community go up,” says Jacqueline Szmuszkovicz, M.D., a cardiologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “Right now, we’re at a critical moment.”
MIS-C is an immune response triggered by infection with – or even exposure to – COVID-19. Szmuszkovicz says that children who contract MIS-C generally start showing symptoms a few weeks after their infection or exposure. “We know they had close contact with a family member. They live in the same house as an adult, for example, who tested positive for COVID. The child never showed COVID symptoms when the parent was sick, but we see them come in maybe a month later with MIS-C,” she explains. The illness causes overwhelming inflammation in the body.
If someone in your home has tested positive for COVID-19, be on the lookout for these MIS-C symptoms in children in the household:
- Fever for at least 24 hours
- Abdominal pain
- Red rash that can appear anywhere on the body
- Severe fatigue
- Red eyes
- Unsually red lips
Szmuszkovicz explains that this isn’t a subtle illness. “Your child looks very ill. They’re fatigued and they’re irritable. They don’t want to eat or drink. The parent will know that this is not right,” she says. In severe cases, children can experience a life-threatening drop in blood pressure, or shock. Because MIS-C is so new, researchers are still learning about its effects on the body. But it can affect multiple organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain.
However, MIS-C seems to be extremely treatable. “It’s been remarkable to me, especially when we can get earlier treatment started, how quickly some of the children can respond to therapy. They can be extremely ill and within a day completely turn around,” Szmuszkovicz says, “even patients who are requiring the Intensive Care Unit for very low blood pressure and depressed heart function.”
Contacting your pediatrician as soon as you see symptoms could make all the difference. “Please don’t delay in seeking care for your ill child,” Szmuszkovicz says. “It’s just critical to get care promptly.”
MIS-C treatment includes anti-inflammatory medications and can also involve IV fluids to maintain blood pressure and hydration, medications to support heart function and anti-clotting medication.
There have been some milder cases of post-COVID-19 inflammation, where children experience fever and some inflammation but don’t need to be hospitalized. Even in these cases, it’s still important for parents to contact their pediatrician. “Things can change very quickly,” says Szmuszkovicz. “I want their care provider helping the parents through the decision making to see if or when they might need to go to the hospital. Then, if things unfortunately do change, you’re ready with a plan.”
The only thing families can do to prevent the spread of MIS-C is to take responsible actions to help curb the spread of COVID-19. “We have to get the spread under control, and the only way to do that is if every individual family makes a decision to follow the state and the Department of Health guidelines,” Szmuszkovicz says. That means staying home when you can and wearing a mask and maintaining a safe distance from others when you go out – and modeling these behaviors for your children. “The number of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County is staggering,” says Szmuszkovicz. “And I think we each need to do our part to curb the spread of the disease.”