COVID-19 and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children: What parents need to know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recent warning to doctors across the country about a serious condition in children linked to the novel coronavirus.

The CDC is calling the condition multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, and urged all doctors to be on the lookout for the condition and report suspected cases to local health departments.

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MIS-C was first reported several weeks ago in the United Kingdom, the agency said. It has since been reported in at least 110 children in New York and in several kids in other states.

While most fully recover, a few children have died.

What are the symptoms of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children?

Most affected children have had current or recent coronavirus infections.

“MIS-C may begin weeks after a child is infected with SARS-CoV-2,” the CDC states on its website. “The child may have been asymptomatically infected and, in some cases, the child and their caregivers may not even know they had been infected.”

While symptoms of MIS-C can vary from case to case, they can include a persistent fever, rash, conjunctivitis, stomachache, vomiting, diarrhea, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, swollen hands and feet, cracked lips and a tongue that is redder than usual, according to Harvard Health, a blog by the Harvard Medical School.

Symptoms in some cases have been compared to Kawasaki disease, a rare condition in children that can cause swelling and heart problems.

Coronavirus - Frankfurt am Main

Children walk into a school building on May 18, 2020 in Frankfurt, Germany. (Photo by Arne Dedert/picture alliance via Getty Images)

What parents need to know

Health experts say that while the condition remains relatively rare, it is serious. Parents should be vigilant and report any symptoms to the doctor — particularly if children have a prolonged fever lasting more than a couple days.

“Parents really shouldn’t be afraid to take their child to their pediatrician if they’re worried they’re sick,” said Dr. Sean O’Leary, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“They should also, of course, make sure they are keeping up on their well-child care and their vaccinations. The diseases we prevent with vaccines are actually much more severe in children than COVID-19, so we want to make sure to protect children from those diseases.”

So far, the reported cases have all involved children. The CDC said it is unknown if the condition can also occur in adults, and it is still gathering information about the reported cases.

“There is limited information currently available about risk factors, pathogenesis, clinical course, and treatment for MIS-C,” the agency states on its website. “CDC is requesting healthcare providers report suspected cases to public health authorities to better characterize this newly recognized condition in the pediatric population.”

Children can develop COVID-19 and their illnesses usually are less severe, although they can spread the disease without showing symptoms.

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.