After the Omicron coronavirus variant made a record number of US children sick in January, children’s hospitals across the United States braced for what has come with every other spike in the Covid-19 pandemic: cases of a rare but dangerous condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, commonly known as MIS-C. But a number of hospitals say the expected surge in cases hasn’t showed up – at least not yet.
MIS-C can follow Covid-19 even some weeks after infection. It can cause parts of the body to become inflamed, and it can affect major organs including the kidneys, brain, lungs and heart.
MIS-C symptoms are not uniform but may involve abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, conjunctivitis and low blood pressure. It often follows a mild or even asymptomatic case of Covid-19.
With the Omicron variant causing so many illnesses, it wasn’t clear exactly how many MIS-C cases hospitals could expect or how serious they would be. Research is still underway, but health care providers at many major children’s hospitals describe the outcomes as “a mixed bag.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks MIS-C cases but updates the numbers on its website only once a month. There have been 6,851 cases reported during the pandemic, with 59 deaths, as of January 31.
That’s a tiny fraction of child Covid cases. More than 12.3 million children have been sick with Covid since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ analysis of data from the states that report cases, hospitalizations and deaths by age.
The more contagious Omicron variant brought a flood of cases: Almost 4.5 million children have had Covid just since the beginning of January.
Different regions of the country are still at different points in the Omicron wave, and it will take some time before scientists have a clearer picture of what the variant has meant for MIS-C cases overall.
Most MIS-C cases have not been fatal, but just last week, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported that a 10-year-old from the southeast part of the state died within the past month from MIS-C.
Tom Haupt, a respiratory disease epidemiologist with the department, said Friday that the state puts a priority on having doctors report even suspected cases of MIS-C so state officials can then report them to the CDC as quickly as possible.
“We want to share this information with the CDC with hopes that we can ultimately find out what’s causing this and what we could do to further prevent MIS-C,” Haupt said.
There are several MIS-C studies underway across the country. Scientists are still trying to figure out why some kids get it and others don’t. They’re also trying to understand the long-term consequences and the best way to treat it.
One thing is certain about MIS-C: “It always follows the same pattern,” said Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, Infectious Disease Division chief at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC. “It’s always two to six weeks after