Rise in rare COVID-19 complication in children may be tied to winter surge

When Leslie Lubell's 10-year-old son Max developed a persistent fever and rash earlier this month, the Cobb County, Georgia mom says she had no idea his symptoms could be connected to Max’s exposure the coronavirus weeks ago.

"I thought this was just a virus, or a bug, or something very basic," Lubell says.

After Max became lethargic, Lubell says, they took him to his pediatrician, who recommended they take Max to the emergency room.

When his blood pressure dropped, Lubell says, Max was transferred to the pediatric ICU at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (or MIS-C.)

Children's Healthcare infectious disease physician Dr. Preeti Jaggi says they have treated about 175 children with MIS-C since last spring.

Recently, Dr. Jaggi says, Children's Healthcare has seen a jump in kids coming in with MIS-C she believes is tied to the spike in COVID-19 infections over the winter holidays.

"We think this illness is a post-infectious illness," Jaggi says.  "So, we are seeing more numbers coming in now, which is about 4 to 6 weeks after our community spread."

MIS-C is rare, she says, but it can cause severe inflammation and other complications. 

So, Dr. Jaggi wants parents to know the signs.

"What you're going to be looking out for is fever.  A lot of children have abdominal pain, and that can be accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea," Dr. Jaggi says.  "A lot of them have pretty severe abdominal pain. Sometimes they can have the eye redness and/or rash, or they really just look listless or are really just not interacting appropriately."

Take your child to the doctor if you are seeing these symptoms, especially if he or she has been exposed to COVID-19 within the last month to six weeks.

RELATED: Vaccine trial participant urges communities of color to get COVID-19 vaccine

Lubell says she had no idea Max's illness had anything to do with the coronavirus.

"He had tested positive for COVID back in January," she says.  "I had been sick.  The only reason we got him tested was because I was sick.    And I think that's relevant because he was asymptomatic."

It is still unclear what causes MIS-C, but the CDC says many of the children who develop the syndrome have either recently had the coronavirus or been exposed to someone who is infected with it.

"Our main concern has been heart function, because many of the children have decreased heart function," Dr. Jaggi says. "But, they seem to actually have recovered pretty well."

With treatment, most children fully recover from MIS-C, although some may require monitoring by a cardiologist or infectious disease physician.

Leslie Lubell has been told her son will be okay.

"I want parents to know that if you see your kid with a fever that won't go away and they have terrible diarrhea and vomiting and you start to notice a rash, you need to go to the doctor," Lubell says.  "Don't assume that it's just a bug."

The CDC cautions parents to contact their child’s doctor, nurse, or clinic right away if their child is showing these symptoms of MIS-C:

  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Neck pain
  • Rash
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Feeling extra tired

 WATCH: FOX 5 Atlanta live news coverage


Sign up for FOX 5 email alerts

Download the FOX 5 Atlanta app for breaking news and weather alerts.