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Richmond hospital sees recent uptick in rare COVID complication in children

COVID-19 coronavirus hospital nurse
Posted at 10:44 PM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 23:33:15-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Inside the Children’s Hospital of Richmond, Pediatrician Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough said doctors are seeing a slight uptick in a rare complication of COVID-19.

"Kids can be fine, and then all of a sudden have a fever, really severe belly pain, vomiting, shortness of breath and they can progress to going into full shock," said Dr. Kimbrough.

The condition is called the Multi-Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or MIS-C. It typically presents four to six weeks after a COVID infection and can come on suddenly.

"After we started seeing kids get mild infections, about four weeks later, we were seeing their immune systems kind of go haywire and start attacking some of the organs of the body," said Dr. Kimbrough. "MIS-C can impact the heart, the lungs, the GI tract, skin, eyes, basically anywhere."

Kids with the syndrome had one thing in common.

"What we're seeing in these kids with MIS-C, is that they all have COVID antibodies," Dr. Kimbrough said.

As of a November first report, the CDC had recorded more than 5,500 cases of MIS-C in children and 48 deaths nationwide.

The median age for children was around 9 years old and more than half of the cases were in Hispanic or African American children.

In Virginia, the VDH reported there had been just 108 cases.

Dr. Kimbrough worried that was underreported. She said at the Children's Hospital of Richmond alone they'd treated 50 to date, with a peak influx of patients about one month ago when the hospital treated 15 patients at one time.

"We see it correlated with every increase in coronavirus," said Chippenham Hospital Pediatrician Dr. Gregory Sturz.

Dr. Sturz, who also serves as the Medical Director of the Chippenham Pediatric ER, said anecdotally, it seemed their hospital had seen an increase in patients as well.

Dr. Sturz said he'd seen everything from children severely ill with the condition to milder symptoms. He said doctors don't know why it happens.

"It's an area of active research, where we're trying to figure out what about the particular child or what about this virus is causing the immune system to be dysregulated," said Dr. Sturz.

But he added there were several theories.

"I equate it to like a gas and a brake pedal, right? So that something about the virus hits the gas pedal, and then the body isn't able to apply the brakes once the infection is over. So, we see, we see these things are ramped up, but we're not sure why," Dr. Sturz said.

CBS 6 asked both Dr. Kimbrough and Dr. Sturz if there was any evidence that the COVID vaccine could trigger MIS-C.

"We're watching that very closely. There have been no vaccine-induced cases of MIS-C. So that's something that, you know, we're feeling more and more reassured against as more and more kids have been vaccinated, in that 12- to 17-year-old group and now in the five- to 11-year-old group. So, all eyes are on that, but we're not seeing that recorded," said Dr. Kimbrough.

Dr. Sturz said in rare cases, a small percentage of children have experienced inflammation of the heart called myocarditis and pericarditis after receiving certain mRNA vaccines, but that doctors couldn't say it was related to MIS-C.

"This is a very small, small percentage of patients and we are not seeing the full multi-system inflammatory process," said Dr. Sturz. "They share similar characteristics, but they're not the same."

Dr. Kimbrough said the best way to prevent MIS-C in your child, was to prevent a COVID infection in the first place.

"Now's not the time to let down our guard," Dr. Kimbrough said.

She said that was especially important as we head into the holidays.