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Michigan now releasing data on rare condition affecting some young children with COVID-19

Kandace Day

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is now regularly releasing data about cases of an inflammatory condition that has affected some children who were, according to the state website, “infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, or had been around someone with COVID-19.”

There have been 58 confirmed cases in Michigan since April, according to a January 7 update. That is 15 more cases reported since the mid-December update. Their ages range from zero to 20.

The rare and serious condition, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), is found in children and teenagers under 21. MIS-C causes multiple organ systems to become inflamed or dysfunctional.

In October, Michigan was among only eight other states that would not disclose how many children died of COVID-19. MDHHS also did not confirm how many died of MIS-C.

But the state changed course over the holidays, releasing its first batch of data detailing MIS-C cases from the beginning of the pandemic through Dec. 14. Now, MIS-C data will be updated every first and third Thursday of the month, starting Jan. 7.

MDHHS writes on its website it is not yet known definitely what causes MIS-C. Doctors like Sabrina Heidemann, director of the medical pediatric ICU at Children’s Hospital in Detroit and Central Michigan University faculty member, first thought they were treating another condition — Kawasaki disease. But the definition didn’t completely fit and Kawaski doesn’t usually send children to the ICU.

Dr. Heidemann and her fellow physicians at Children's Hospital began looking at COVID-19 and COVID-19 antibodies, realizing those were elevated and that it was a factor. It was “mind-teasing,” she said, as they figured out the best treatment.

Heidemann said Children’s Hospital saw a “huge wave” of MIS-C cases in April and May, with more than 20 patients. The summer slowed down before another spike in December, similar to the case rates in the adult population. While her patients have recovered, she said there is a need to visit the cardiologist down the line to see if there have been long-lasting effects.

Forty-two cases have been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit across the state. Northern Michigan mother Kandace Day had her own terrifying encounter with the ICU after seeing her four-year-old son Charlie med-evacked to Grand Rapids, where he was hooked to ten different machines, including a ventilator. He was there for over two weeks.

“Seeing my little boy, that was running around with his two little brothers laughing, giggling, and then waking up from being on a ventilator for four days, not knowing who I was – it was very depressing and emotional for us,” she said.

“Doctors were coming in all times of the hours because he was like, ‘What is going on with your little body?’”

Day said Charlie left the hospital Dec. 23, still feeling ill and was on multiple medications. While he is doing better and the inflammation is gone from his body, Day said Charlie may have scarring on the heart and in the lungs. She was also told by doctors Charlie has Parkinson’s-like symptoms, where inflammation reached his brain.

The state, as it did in October, is not disclosing exactly how many young people have died due to MIS-C. Currently, MDHHS reports “five or fewer” have died due to MIS-C.

Demographic information has also been released:

  • Black children and white children both have 26 cases each.
  • Six cases were from Hispanic or Latino children.
  • Thirty cases were girls and 28 were boys. 
  • Twenty-four cases are from children between the ages of five and ten, and 18 cases from those older than ten. Sixteen of the 58 cases are from kids younger than four years.

As of December 4, the Centers for Disease Control reported 1,288 MIS-C cases and 23 deaths among 44 states, New York City and Washington D.C. Large states, like New York and Texas, are seeing the highest number of cases. The CDC is not reporting individual state counts, to protect the privacy of patients and their families because there are so few cases in most states.

The CDC also notes more than 75% of reported cases have occurred in children who are Hispanic or Latino or Black, Non-Hispanic. However, Hispanic/Latino and Non-Hispanic Black populations are also more likely to contract COVID-19 — the CDC said additional studies into MIS-C are needed, especially looking at race and ethnicity.

The CDC says most of the children developed MIS-C two to four weeks after coming into contact with COVID-19. Symptoms can include gut pain, vomiting, diarrhea, neck pain, rashes, bloodshot eyes, or fatigue. Persistent fevers are a fever lasting more than a day — this can be subjective, but the temperature may be around 100.4°F. In some cases there are respiratory symptoms, but not always.

Michigan has asked health care providers and local health departments to “maintain a high degree of suspicion for MIS-C in pediatric and adolescent patients,” especially as it is similar to other illnesses seen in children.

Dr. Heidemann suggested parents should monitor their child’s health a month after contracting COVID-19.

“It's like with any other infection. Many times children don't get sick from many different infections, but then there's always a small group that can have severe problems later on down the line. So I would keep that in the back of my mind if my child had COVID-19 and if they got fevers. I would bring it up with the pediatrician.”

CDC investigators say while children appear to be less likely to be severely ill, they are still learning more about MIS-C’s risk factors as well as monitoring the situation to see if they need to implement any MIS-C recommendations.

As for Charlie, his mother says he is doing better — smiling, giggling, happy to be home. While he cannot run the way he did before COVID-19, he has relearned how to walk, eat and drink. He is getting better day by day, she said.

There have been 516,376 total cases of coronavirus in Michigan, with over 13,000 deaths as of January 8. More than half of those cases were reported in the last two months.

Day said mothers from other states who also had children in the hospital due to MIS-C have reached out to her after hearing her story.

“This may seem like a joke right now. All of a sudden, it hits,” Day said. “We don't know much about it. My son almost died a month after having COVID. It's scary. And I feel like people should be scared of the unknown.”

This post was updated January 12 at 1:27 pm.

Nisa Khan joins Michigan Radio as the station’s first full-time data reporter. In that capacity, she will be reporting on data-driven news stories as well as working with other news staff to acquire and analyze data in support of their journalism.
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