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Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C)


Also called: Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (PMIS); Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome (PIMS)

What Is Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C)?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) seems to usually cause a milder infection in kids than in adults and older people. But some children have developed more serious symptoms, sometimes several weeks after being infected with the virus. Doctors are calling this multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Experts don't know why some kids get MIS-C after coronavirus infection and others don't.

What Are the Signs of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C)?

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) causes symptoms that are due to inflammation (irritation, pain, swelling) throughout the body. Doctors are trying to find out how these symptoms are related to coronavirus infection.

Symptoms that have been seen in kids include:

  • a fever
  • belly pain
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • a rash
  • neck pain
  • red, cracked lips
  • red eyes
  • being extra tired
  • swollen hands or feet
  • swollen lymph nodes

If your child has any of these symptoms, call your doctor. Kids with this inflammatory syndrome may quickly get worse. Go to the ER right away if your child looks very sick, has trouble breathing, has chest pain, has very bad belly pain, looks bluish in the lips or face, or is very sleepy or confused.

What Problems Can Happen?

MIS-C can cause different problems in different kids. The inflammation can affect the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, digestive system, brain, or eyes. Sometimes, this can damage the organs, especially the heart, or cause too much clotting in the blood vessels.

How Is MIS-C Diagnosed?

MIS-C symptoms can be similar to those caused by other illnesses, such as Kawasaki disease or toxic shock syndrome. If a doctor thinks a child might have MIS-C, they will do tests that look for signs of inflammation in the body. These can include:

The doctor might talk with a team of specialists who can help diagnose and treat MIS-C. These can include experts in infectious disease, cardiology (heart), rheumatology (bones, joints, and immune system), and critical care.

How Is MIS-C Treated?

How doctors treat MIS-C depends on a child's symptoms and test results. They can give oxygen, medicines, and intravenous (IV) fluids to reduce inflammation, prevent excessive blood clotting, or protect the affected organs from more problems. Some children might need to stay in the ICU (intensive care unit).

What Else Should I Know?

Most kids with MIS-C get better after they get special care in the hospital. But some can have lasting problems and need close follow-up with specialists after they leave the hospital.

For example, kids who develop heart problems due to MIS-C will need regular visits with a cardiologist. They may have to avoid exercise or sports for a while, until the cardiologist says it's OK. Kids who get some kinds medicines (like steroids for reducing inflammation) will see a specialist, such as a rheumatologist or endocrinologist, who can help them adjust their medicines as needed.

MIS-C is very rare. The best way to prevent it is to prevent coronavirus infection. This means following public health guidelines during the pandemic, such as wearing masks in public, washing hands well and often, practicing social distancing, avoiding crowds, and getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available.

Date reviewed: April 2021