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Mysterious Set Of Symptoms Related To The Coronavirus Is Appearing In Kids


A mysterious but rare set of symptoms is appearing in kids. It's called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MISC. And it appears to be related to the coronavirus. We're talking about a small number of kids. And NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro got exclusive access to a pediatric intensive care unit where some of them are being treated.

Hi, Lulu. Thanks for joining us.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: I'm glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: This sounds ominous, multisystem inflammatory syndrome. Tell us what it is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we were at Children's National here in D.C. and they've seen they believe the most of these MISC cases in the United States, between 30 to 50 so far. Ari, it's a serious condition. Kids can end up with inflamed hearts, lungs and other organs. Dr. Roberta DeBiasi is the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Children's National, and she told me what they've found in the kids that they've studied is that most test negative for the coronavirus but then test positive for coronavirus antibodies.

ROBERTA DEBIASI: So that implies that it is this post-infectious - or after you've cleared the virus and the antibody is there that this is kind of disregulated or inappropriate amount of what is usually the right thing your body's supposed to do, which is make antibody to fight something off.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So their bodies are overreacting to the virus. They don't know why this is happening yet or which kids are most at risk, which is what makes this such a concern.

SHAPIRO: We want to stress that this is affecting a small number of children. Did doctors at Children's National tell you about any larger concerns about the syndrome?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They did. While this is rare, it can be hard to spot. Kids have a whole range of symptoms from fevers to rashes to stomach pains. It's only when you look inside them through bloodwork and imaging that you can see how sick they really are. And because this is so new, doctors also don't know what the lasting effects could be. One child that I spoke to who had MISC was released from the hospital but now has a heart monitor because his heart was inflamed and now he has arrhythmias. Could that mean long-term damage? They don't know. And when we were in the pediatric ICU, Dr. Michael Bell, chief of critical care at Children's National, said something else. Because it looks like MISC is a reaction to a past coronavirus infection...

MICHAEL BELL: There may be concerns of who to vaccinate. If kids are going to get a vaccine that's going to cause antibodies, looking out for this inflammatory syndrome in the vaccinated children is probably an important thing to look out for. So we aren't in any way certain that it's going to happen when a vaccine. But we're - obviously, that's a concern. If it's happening with the antibodies, that's obviously something we're worried about.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And clinical trials for vaccine in kids are expected to begin soon in the U.K., for example. How vaccines work is by creating antibodies that give you resistance to an infection. But what if a vaccine creates more cases of MISC in otherwise healthy kids? You know, I stress there is no evidence that it will, but it is something that Dr. Bell is worried about, which is why any vaccine has to be tested thoroughly.

SHAPIRO: Lulu, you visited this hospital and so I wonder what you can tell us about their ability to treat these kids and other patients. I mean, did it seem overwhelmed? We saw these scenes in New York City ICUs, more recently in Montgomery, Ala., where there weren't enough hospital beds. What did you see?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. They have been busy but not overwhelmed. They already had a lot of infrastructure in place planning for Ebola and other infectious disease outbreaks in the past, so they were able to scale up pretty quickly. That said, after all this time, testing - testing is still a challenge. Dr. Meghan Delaney chief of pathology and laboratory medicine, says Children's has been forced into using four different tests.

MEGHAN DELANEY: Usually in a lab, you would not do that. You would just have one kind of test for that disease. But because of the supply chain issues, we actually brought in as many different tests as we could because if any one test the company wasn't able to supply us with the supplies, we could still keep testing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So they have enough tests, but they're having to go to unprecedented lengths to get what they need. So it's hard.

SHAPIRO: And I can imagine it must have been really tough to see little kids going through this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. It was. The littlest patient in the COVID ward I saw was 6 weeks old. But so far, there been no deaths of MISC at Children's, and doctors stress to me that this is serious. If your child is exhibiting symptoms, like a fever, rash or stomach pains, you should seek medical attention. But also - and I know that this is hard right now as parents - don't freak out.

SHAPIRO: That is our colleague, host of Weekend Edition Sunday Lulu Garcia-Navarro. Thank you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: And you can find more about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and Lulu's visit to the pediatric ICU on our website Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.