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Doctors finding rare inflammation illness in children, seemingly triggered by Covid-19

Dr Kate Webb and her team’s research aims to capture data from children with Covid-19 and MIS-C across the country- Picture: UCT/Supplied

Dr Kate Webb and her team’s research aims to capture data from children with Covid-19 and MIS-C across the country- Picture: UCT/Supplied

Published Dec 14, 2020


Cape Town - The Western Cape Health Department has revealed 35 confirmed cases since June of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a new, rare disease which seemed to have Covid-19 as a precursor and has been found to develop in children a few weeks after the onset of the viral infection.

Chris Scott, an associate professor at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and Paediatric Rheumatology's head of division, said they do not have accurate numbers for private centres and other state hospitals, but they know that Tygerberg Hospital was seeing roughly the same number of cases and that there have been numerous patients discussed with them from private facilities in Cape Town.

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Scott said the syndrome varied in severity, though all the children were significantly ill and had all required hospitalisation, however, it remained a relative rare condition and only a very small percentage of children infected with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) would develop the condition.

"Milder cases present with persistent fever, rash, red eyes, red tongue and lips as well other symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhoea, a rapid heart rate from inflammation of the heart and swollen hands and feet," he said.

He said in severe cases the heart could be severely affected and that could lead to the need for intensive care in some cases.

"We have also seen involvement of other systems such as the nervous system and kidneys. In all cases blood tests show very high markers of inflammation."

Researchers at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences said they have joined forces with other paediatric specialists to gather data that would provide a better understanding of the MIS-C illness.

A leading researcher and consultant paediatric rheumatologist in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dr Kate Webb, said the disease had no evidence-based treatment or diagnostic guidelines.

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"So, we set up the group to spread awareness, learn from each other and work together to get answers and conduct this really urgent research,” Webb said.

She said the virus seemed to trigger the syndrome “and causes fevers, rashes, heart and other organ problems in children".

“As our pandemic was a bit later than in Europe and the US, we were forewarned about MIS-C. So as soon as we started seeing cases, we knew that we were well placed to gather data and start to perform research to rapidly learn more about this new disease.

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“We set this up informally at first by talking to each other via an online group. We now have representatives from each province and from most of the referral hospitals that will treat these children,” Webb said.

Scott said the syndrome was best treated as soon as a diagnosis was made.

“All patients are hospitalised for monitoring and supportive care. Suppressing the inflammation is the main target of treatment although other medications are used to support various organ systems that may be affected.”

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Cape Argus