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Explainer: What Parents Should Know About MIS-C, Syndrome With Possible Link To Coronavirus

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This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

With New Jersey reporting more than two-dozen cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), state officials are urging parents and caregivers to be on the lookout for the rare, but potentially life-threatening condition. The mysterious syndrome — which experts believe is triggered by a reaction to the novel coronavirus — can cause different body parts to become severely inflamed, including the heart, lungs, blood vessels, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. MIS-C has similar features to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome, but it is not the same.

How many cases so far?
State officials reported 26 cases on Wednesday, up three from the previous day. The patients range in age from 1 to 18 years and reside in at least 11 counties, including: Bergen, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic and Union. All of the patients have been hospitalized at some point and six still remain in acute care, officials said. The condition was originally identified in New York, which has logged more than 160 cases, but has since been diagnosed in children in nearly half the states.

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What exactly should parents watch for?
The state Department of Health created a fact sheet for parents with a list of possible symptoms, some of which could also be caused by COVID-19. These include: irritability or sluggishness; unexplained stomach pain; diarrhea; vomiting; skin rash; red or pink eyes; enlarged lymph node on one side of the neck; cracked, red lips; a tongue that “looks like a strawberry;” and swollen, possibly red hands or feet.

If I see something, what do I do?
The DOH recommends calling your child’s pediatrician if you discover any of these symptoms. Many practices are also offering telehealth visits, which could be helpful in this case. Talk to the doctor about what you are seeing and get their advice on what to do next; MIS-C itself is not contagious, officials said. If your child is severely ill, call 911 immediately or go to your nearest emergency room. The state has also ordered clinicians to report these cases to the DOH using a specific form on their website.

What happens to my child if doctors suspect MIS-C?
With the cause of MIS-C still somewhat of a mystery, there is not currently a way to screen for the syndrome itself. Instead, doctors will test for COVID-19. They will also isolate and care for your child as though they are infected by the coronavirus, with strict protocols for masks and other protections. While there is no specific treatment for MIS-C — or for COVID-19 at this point — clinicians will treat the child’s symptoms, possibly with intravenous liquids and steroids to reduce inflammation and other medications to protect their heart, kidneys and other organs, according to the state.

So what’s the coronavirus connection again?
Experts don’t yet know what causes MIS-C, but they have found that many of the children with the disease also test positive for COVID-19. In New Jersey, 18 of the 26 cases also had COVID-19, state officials said. More than nine in 10 of the New York cases also tested positive for the coronavirus, according to reports.

What about prevention? Is there a way to keep my kids safe?

Given how little is known about MIS-C, prevention is tricky. State officials encourage parents to take the same precautions they would to guard against COVID-19: keeping your distance to six or more feet, wearing masks and washing your hands for at least 20 seconds.

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