Houston pediatric hospitals see record high in rare COVID-related illness MIS-C

Houston’s major pediatric hospitals are experiencing a significant increase in patients with childhood multisystem inflammatory syndrome — or MIS-C — a relatively new condition that causes inflamed organs, most commonly seen in children exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 .

While the number of hospitalizations for pediatric COVID patients in the Houston area has fallen by as much as 50 percent, Texas Children’s Hospital reported an all-time record number of MIS-C admissions in the month of September with 30 patients. Children’s Memorial Hermann also saw a big increase in the same time frame.

MIS-C usually affects children three to six weeks after being exposed to COVID. The condition is rare – about 1 in 1,000 pediatric COVID patients develop the disease – but the number of cases has increased nationwide. As of Oct. 4, there were 5,217 patients meeting the definition of MIS-C in the U.S. and 46 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency reported 4,000 MIS-C patients in early June.

Researchers still don’t know why some kids get MIS-C and others don’t, but health experts want parents to be on the lookout.

“We’re not trying to shock parents back into lockdown mode,” said Dr. Eyal Muscal, chief of rheumatology at Texas Children’s Hospital. “It’s just an unfortunate part of pediatric COVID and the pandemic. And it’s a component that requires early assessment and intervention.”

The condition causes inflammation in various organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs.

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MIS-C wasn’t circulating before the pandemic, Muscal said, and doctors have been forced to work together in different specialties to discover the telltale signs. Persistent high fever, sometimes accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea, are important indicators. Fatigue and chest pain may also be present in children with heart inflammation.

Doctors anticipated a major rise in MIS-C given the record number of children hospitalized due to COVID. The condition usually peaks about two to four weeks after a peak in adult COVID cases, Muscal said.

All MIS-C patients at Texas Children’s have been exposed to COVID but showed no symptoms or a mild infection, Muscal said.

He doesn’t expect parents to call their pediatrician as soon as their child develops a fever, especially if there is an expected flu wave.

“But if you have a fever for two to three days and you see other signs — and you know they may have been exposed to COVID — then you should ask the question,” he said.

julian.gill@chron.com

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