Uptick in COVID-Related Illnesses in Kids Appears to Follow Holiday Surge: Experts

Doctors say more research is needed to understand the cause of multi-system inflammatory syndrome

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Covid infections have dropped significantly across the country but one lagging effect of the post-holiday surge seems to be an uptick in children with multi-system inflammatory syndrome or MIS-C.

With just over 2,000 confirmed cases in the U.S., the disease first reported on last year by NBC New York's I-Team is rare, but New Jersey has seen at least 22 new patients since the end of December. Its prominence seems to correlate with spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Twelve-year-old Alana Arrington of Newark is one of the survivors of MIS-C. Doctors said her immune system was out of control, inflamed after she was exposed to the coronavirus. Alana recalled not being able to breathe when she became sick back in May.

"I was gasping for air," the teen said.

Her mother, Quianah Arrington, said the illness was scary and it got worse when Alana had to be intubated.

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Symptoms of MIS-C vary but they include fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, neck pain, rash, bloodshot eyes, or feeling extra tired, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's still unclear what causes the sickness but many children with MIS-C had contracted COVID-19 or been around an infected person.

The illness is sometimes deadly. About 30 children in the U.S. have died from it, the CDC said.

"We are seeing an increased number of cases currently. We suspect is related to the increased amount of cases after the holidays," said Dr. Christina Gagliardo, a Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at Atlantic Health.

Just as with COVID-19, Gagliardo says physicians are getting a lot better at treating MIS-C, but there are still big unanswered questions like why is it mostly affecting children and not adults?

Dr. Jennifer Owensby, director of the pediatric ICU at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, says more research is critical to understanding the disease that sickened Alana. The teen was saved by the doctors at Hackensack University Medical Center last year and she’s now part of an on-going study to crack the code of this rare disease.

"I look at the MIS-C children as our warriors in this battle against COVID.  They experience such severe illness and they fight it so dramatically and they’ve emerged from it," said Dr. Sivia Lapidus, a pediatric rheumatologist at Hackensack Meridian.

Across New Jersey, there have been 88 confirmed cases of illness so far and no deaths, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday.

As of the beginning of February, New York State Department of Health said it is investigating 341 cases and two deaths.

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