NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – An illness related to COVID-19 is increasingly affecting children and forcing the medical community to re-examine what it thought it knew about the coronavirus, according to a Saint Peter’s University Hospital expert.
Dr. Siva Jonna, a pediatric intensivist at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s, said he and his staff have recently treated six patients with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), ranging in ages of less than a year to 16.
Jonna said the symptoms of MIS-C often resemble streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, bacterial sepsis, macrophage activation syndrome or Kawasaki disease.
The symptoms include a persistent fever that lasts several days to low blood pressure, abdominal pain, confusion, cough, diarrhea, headaches, swelling of the lymph nodes and some redness of the mucous membrane on the mouth.
Some patients even develop rashes, sore throat and vomiting.
None of those who have been treated for MIS-C at Saint Peter's have died and all have been released after a hospital stay of between one and three weeks, Jonna said.
Jonna said that bacterial and viral testing is often performed on the affected children. Those tests are often negative, but COVID-19 testing comes back positive or the patients test positive for the COVID-19 antibodies.
MIS-C is debunking myths about the coronavirus that go back as far as the first confirmed case in the United States in January. As Jonna put it, “Children are not immune to this disease.”
And, he says that if children get COVID-19, it also poses a danger to the adults around them.
“When they're asymptomatic today does not mean these children are not going to develop this tomorrow. That's number one,” Jonna said. “Number two, is it is the adults who are living with children. So basically, they will be infected, they'll be much more symptomatic. That's what we are seeing in our role at this time.
“In other words, once the schools are open, I'm sure a lot of asymptomatic kids who are coming into the school, they're going to infect other kids. So, you're going to see this number go up as their parents, the grandparents at home are going to be infected. So, this is something which people need to take it very serious until we have a vaccine for this or some remedy for this.”
In the last week alone, MIS-C has started to make headlines across the country.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that the city is investigating 145 possible cases of MIS-C, according to a New York Daily News report. The syndrome has killed one 5-year-old boy in New York City and two other children statewide, according to New York health officials.
In Steuben County in western New York, a 9-year-old whose stomach hurt so bad that he couldn’t stand up was recently diagnosed with MIS-C after doctors initially treated him for an appendix infection, according to WSYR-TV.
Los Angeles County officials on Monday said four children diagnosed with MIS-C have tested positive for COVID-19 through antibody testing and nearly two dozen other cases are under investigation, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Last week, the World Health Organization addressed the need to begin tracking MIS-C with a scientific brief posted on its website.
According to the brief, “there is therefore an urgent need for collection of standardized data describing clinical presentations, severity, outcomes, and epidemiology.”
“What’s really happening is most children (with COVID-19) are asymptomatic or exhibit very mild symptoms,” Jonna said. “But however, in the last few months, a small number of children have been identified with a significant systemic inflammatory response syndrome. So, in other words, this is something which has changed the dynamics of how we're really thinking all these days, that COVID-19 is not going to affect children. But it’s affecting them now.”