CINCINNATI — In most cases, the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 increases alongside the patient’s age. People over the age of 80 are more likely than any other group to die of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus; people under the age of 21 are more likely to recover.
But a small number of children who recover from COVID-19 face a little-understood threat in the weeks afterward: Multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), which begins with an unexplained fever and can end in death.
Doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital say they’re worried a potential spring wave of COVID-19 could bring an accompanying uptick in cases of MIS-C — and, with every case, potential that another child will have fatal complications.
“The worry is that if we are about to experience a fourth wave of COVID, fueled in part by some of these new variants, whether we're going to start seeing increasing numbers over the next couple of weeks,” said Dr. Grant Schulert, who works at Children’s.
Symptoms of MIS-C include fever, belly pain, diarrhea, skin rashes and eye and mouth inflamation. In severe cases, these symptoms culminate in life-threatening shock. Adults can get it, too — or, rather, get a version known medically as MIS-A.
Around 3,185 children have experienced MIS-C in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data collected and published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sixty-three percent of patients are Black and Latino children, which has puzzled doctors like Schulert.
“There is likely some genetic predisposition to MIS-C,” he said, but the limited pool of knowledge about the illness makes conclusions hard to reach.
Ohio and Indiana have each recorded fewer than 100 cases; Kentucky has recorded fewer than 50.
Only 36 patients have died.
Schulert said Children’s Hospital has not treated any fatal cases of MIS-C, but the best way to prevent more is for Cincinnatians to get vaccinated and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Any parent who suspects their child is experiencing MIS-C should contact a doctor.