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CDC issues alert to doctors on rare COVID-19 'mystery illness' in kids

The illness was given an official name: MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.
/ Source: NBC News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health alert to physicians Thursday on what has emerged as a rare but potentially deadly condition linked to COVID-19 in children.

The illness, which the CDC calls "multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children," or MIS-C, has been reported in at least 19 states and Washington, D.C. It was previously referred to as pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome.

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At least 110 cases have been reported in New York, and three young people — ages 5, 7 and 18 — have died. New Jersey has at least 17 cases, and California has six. Other states, such as Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and Washington, have reported small numbers of cases.

The CDC's health alert provides guidance for diagnosis of MIS-C. The diagnostic criteria include a fever of at least 100.4 degrees for at least 24 hours, evidence of inflammation in the body and hospitalization with problems in at least two organs (such as the heart, the kidneys or the lungs).

Also necessary for a diagnosis is evidence of COVID-19, either through a diagnostic test or a test that looks for antibodies to the coronavirus or through recent exposure to someone with the virus.

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Doctors who've treated cases have said the illness mirrors many of the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome or Kawasaki disease, including severe inflammation of the coronary arteries. Much remains unknown.

"There is limited information currently available about risk factors, pathogenesis, clinical course, and treatment for MIS-C," the CDC's alert reads.

"The CDC is requesting healthcare providers report suspected cases to public health authorities to better characterize this newly recognized condition in the pediatric population."

The alert suggests that patients younger than 21 would qualify for the diagnosis, but it also said it's unknown whether adults, too, could develop the condition.