KANSAS CITY, Mo — With the rise in COVID-19 cases, Kansas City pediatricians are worried about seeing an uptick in multisystem inflammatory syndrome.
MIS-C tends to rise and fall with the number of COVID-19 cases in communities and primarily targets children two to six weeks after they test positive for the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4,400 cases of MIS-C have been reported since the start of the pandemic — 37 of those patients have died from the syndrome.
Dr. Jennifer Schuster with Children’s Mercy Hospital says the hospital has treated 62 confirmed cases of MIS-C since the pandemic began. Staff went weeks without seeing new cases at the beginning of summer but have started seeing an uptick in the last few weeks.
She attributes this pattern to low vaccination rates in young people and looser COVID-19 safety restrictions.
“Unfortunately, many times, parents actually don’t suspect that this is MIS-C because they didn't know that their child had COVID-19 infection,” Schuster said.
MIS-C is a rare COVID-19 complication, but it can cause dangerous outcomes in children if left untreated. Schuster says this is why it is so important for parents to notice the signs early on.
“Children with MIS-C are typically not at home. They all require hospitalization,” Schuster said.
Symptoms will look different case by case, but parents should look out for red eyes and lips, rash, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, prolonged fevers, troubled breathing and changes in behavior. Doctors are still figuring out how or why the syndrome can lead to serious organ complications.
“Our most severe cases are often because children's hearts aren’t able to pump blood properly or have significant heart damage," Schuster said. "Those are often the cases that require care in the intensive care unit.”
Most children tend to do well in the recovery process, but doctors are worried about the long-term effects this syndrome may have as children grow into adulthood.
“Longterm, we follow many things. We look at their liver and kidneys to make sure their organ functions return back to normal,” Schuster said.
The CDC reports the median age of MIS-C patients is nine years, and the syndrome is mostly diagnosed in Black and Hispanic children. But Schuster says she is seeing more cases in late teens and early 20s now.
“I mean, honestly my biggest fear at one point was that he wasn’t going to make it,” said Jennifer Smith, a mother of five in Lenexa.
Smith’s son, Austin McCombs, was one of those teenagers who struggled with MIS-C, COVID-19 and pneumonia. He had fevers, low oxygen and inflamed heart and liver.
Allergic reactions to his treatments made his recovery difficult, and since contracting it in April, his lab results finally cleared just last week.
“It was very scary. I had never seen him so sick," Smith said. "He’s just a healthy 15-year-old kid, and all of a sudden he’s like laying on the floor not wanting to move and he just went downhill really fast."
It is a sentiment mother Christy Martin can relate to after helping her son battle the syndrome as well.
Her son, Brooks, tested positive for COVID-19 in December of 2020 and developed MIS-C about seven weeks later. She worries Brooks will be back at Children’s Mercy due to complications down the road, even though he is seemingly back to normal.
“The initial thought from doctors was appendicitis — treated with antibiotics which did nothing but delay his treatment by several miserable days," Martin said. "Several kids have had their appendix and gallbladders removed and just keep deteriorating still."
She wants to notify parents about the importance of early diagnosis and knowing what symptoms to look for in their children. If parents suspect their child may be positive for MIS-C, Martin suggests asking a doctor to run lab tests for inflammation markers.
“Brooks was positive with no symptoms and seven weeks later asked me if he was going to die,” Martin said.