• Sebastian Leck

FACT CHECK: Does a new COVID-19-related syndrome pose a risk to children?

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

MOSTLY TRUE. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome can lead to heart damage in children if it is left untreated. However, the long-term outcomes are unknown and the condition affects very few children.

On September 6, CTV News reported on a research study about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), an inflammatory condition that can “strike seemingly healthy children without warning three or four weeks after asymptomatic coronavirus infections.” According to CTV, 90 percent of children studied “suffered cardiac involvement,” and 71 percent were admitted to the intensive care unit. The study looked at 662 cases in children around the world, of whom eleven children died.

As children across Canada return to school this week, it’s important for parents to understand the risks involved. While the CTV News story gets the numbers right, it’s missing some important context about how common the syndrome is and the uncertainty surrounding the findings.

Children infected with COVID-19 generally have mild symptoms and recover quickly, according to the original study on MIS-C. In Canada, 1.3 percent of people requiring intensive care for COVID-19 were under nineteen and one person under nineteen has died so far.

There’s no doubt that MIS-C is dangerous. The death rate in the study was 1.6 percent, which is comparable to the death rate for COVID-19 in adults aged fifty-five to sixty-four years old. However, it only affects a very small number of children. During the height of the pandemic in New York State—from March 1 to May 10—MIS-C affected two out of 100,000 people under twenty-one years old, or 0.002 percent.

It’s possible that there are more cases that aren’t being counted because the definition requires evidence of a SARS-COV-2 infection, as one infectious disease expert argued in the New England Journal of Medicine, but there’s no evidence of that yet.

There is also still uncertainty about the long-term effects. The CTV News story states that the syndrome “damages the heart to such an extent that lifelong monitoring and interventions may be needed,” but the researchers seem less sure. In the study, they note that the syndrome is potentially lethal but that most children will recover. “With prompt recognition and medical attention, most children will survive but the long-term outcomes from this condition are presently unknown,” they wrote.

The reporting from CTV News was technically accurate but it didn’t give a full picture of the danger facing children who are potentially exposed to COVID-19. MIS-C is a serious condition that doctors are working to understand and treat, but it’s important to remember that the syndrome is very rare and the long-term effects are not fully understood.