What Is MIS-C?


As if parenting in a pandemic wasn’t hard enough, reports on pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, abbreviated as MIS-C, can be nothing short of overwhelming. 

It’s normal to feel concerned about this newly discovered (yet very rare) condition linked to COVID-19. There are some things experts say we do know, while others are still evolving.

What is pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome?

MIS-C in children is a rare syndrome that causes different parts of the body — such as the heart, lungs or kidneys — to become inflamed and not function well. Although experts aren’t sure what exactly causes the condition, we do know that MIS-C cases have been associated with children who recently had COVID-19. Children with MIS-C can have multiple days of fever, and multi-organ inflammation and dysfunction.

Early reports of MIS-C showed most cases centralized in New York. As of October, cases in the U.S. surpassed 5,000, and have been reported in 49 states, and Washington, D.C. Vermont is the only state not to have reported a case. More than 300 cases have been reported in California and Georgia, more than any other state.

Earlier reports linked the syndrome to another rare childhood condition, Kawasaki disease, because it shares some of the same symptoms. Historically, Kawasaki disease is much more common in young children under 5 years old — it causes blood vessels to become inflamed, which in turn can cause heart damage. Experts now know each is a different illness and have different criteria for diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of MIS-C?

Although not all children have the same symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says parents should look out for an ongoing fever along with any of the following: 

  • Rash
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Belly pain or other stomach symptoms such as diarrhea
  • Dizziness

You know your child best, so it’s important to rely on your intuition, especially with babies and toddlers who are not able to tell you when something is wrong. And you should always seek urgent care if your child has any emergency symptoms such as pale or gray skin or nail beds, trouble breathing, pain in their chest, confusion or inability to stay awake.

Who is most at risk for MIS-C? 

According to the CDC, half of the cases of MIS-C have been in children between ages 5 and 13, with an average age of 9. Black, Hispanic and Latino children account for 61 percent of reported cases.

While we need to learn more about risk factors for this syndrome, doctors and scientists around the world are working hard to understand MIS-C and how best to treat it. The CDC issued an advisory to doctors to assist public health officials in tracking MIS-C cases in each state — this will help everyone get a handle on just how many children are affected and share facts and information with each other. 

How to protect your child from MIS-C

There’s a lot experts still don’t know about MIS-C, including why some children develop the condition and others don’t. Until we know more, the best way to keep your child safe is to continue taking precautions to protect your family from COVID-19, including:

  • Get your child vaccinated. Kids 5 and up can now get immunized against COVID-19. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in children and adolescents in clinical trials, and the vaccine is the best way to protect your child from developing COVID-19.
  • Get vaccinated. All eligible members of a household (including pregnant women) should get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves and younger family members who cannot yet get vaccinated.
  • Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. (If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.)
  • Children 2 and up should wear a mask in indoor public settings. Keep in mind, however, that children under 2 should not wear face masks because of suffocation concerns.
  • Keep baby’s gear clean.Regularly clean your child’s toys and gear with warm water, particularly plush toys.

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