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Many Kids Who Develop Severe COVID-Linked Syndrome Have Neurologic Symptoms

By Robert Preidt and Ernie Mundell HealthDay Reporters
HealthDay News

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WEDNESDAY, April 14, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- In very rare cases, children infected with the new coronavirus can develop a severe illness known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). Now, research finds that these young patients often develop neurologic symptoms along with the respiratory issues they might face.

These neurologic symptoms were present in half of children who were hospitalized with MIS-C, U.K. researchers say.

"With this new inflammatory syndrome that develops after children are infected with the coronavirus, we are still learning how the syndrome affects children and what we need to watch out for," said study author Dr. Omar Abdel-Mannan, of University College London. His team is scheduled to present the new findings at this month's virtual annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

"We found that many children experienced neurologic symptoms involving both the central and peripheral nervous systems," the researcher explained in an academy news release.

MIS-C is a rare illness that typically arises in children who were previously infected with COVID-19. It usually starts around a month after someone contracts COVID-19.

The condition is marked by an influx of inflammation that affects the functioning of organs and systems throughout the body. While the exact cause is unknown, MIS-C seems to be rooted in the body's immune system reacting excessively to the COVID-19 virus. Many kids who get MIS-C need to be hospitalized, but the treatment options are usually successful, and most kids recover. However, scientists and doctors are still looking at the potential long-term effects.

In the new study, Abdel-Mannan's group analyzed the medical records of 46 COVID-19 patients younger than 18 (average age 10) with MIS-C admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London between April and September of last year.

Of those children, 24 displayed new-onset neurologic symptoms or signs when they were admitted to the hospital. Twenty-four had headaches, 14 had encephalopathy (brain inflammation sometimes caused by infection), six had voice abnormalities or hoarseness, six had hallucinations, five had impaired coordination (ataxia), three had peripheral nerve problems and one had seizures.

The children with neurologic symptoms were more likely to have MIS-C so severe that they needed a ventilator and drugs to help stabilize their blood circulation, compared to those without such symptoms, the researchers said.

"Children who develop this condition should definitely be evaluated for neurologic symptoms and longer-term cognitive outcomes," Abdel-Mannan believes. He added that "more studies are needed involving more children and following children to see how this condition changes over time, and if there are any longer-term neurocognitive effects."

One expert in the United States said the new findings shed valuable insight on a still mysterious illness.

"This study provides an important piece to the puzzle that is MIS-C," said Dr. Michael Grosso, chief medical officer and chair of pediatrics at Northwell Health's Huntington Hospital, in Huntington, N.Y.

"The multisystem inflammatory syndrome seems to overlap with a well-known childhood condition known as Kawasaki disease, but it is also different in many ways and seems to vary in its presentation depending on the age of the child," he said. "The authors' finding that central nervous system involvement is common in MIS-C will likely be of great help in alerting clinicians to look for these problems."

But Grosso added that this research is still in its infancy.

"What we know so far about COVID and MIS-C in children is likely but a tiny fraction of what there is yet to learn," he said.

Because the new findings were presented at a medical meeting, they should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

SOURCES: Michael Grosso, MD, chief medical officer and chair, pediatrics, Northwell Health's Huntington Hospital, Huntington, N.Y.; American Academy of Neurology, news release, April 13, 2021

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