Six cases of a rare coronavirus-related inflammatory condition have been identified in Kentucky youth since March, according to public records from the state.
Case data suggest the syndrome is disproportionately impacting young people of color.
MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, has been identified in Kentuckians as young as five and as old as 19. Symptoms of the rare but serious condition include the inflammation of multiple body parts, fever, rash or vomiting. The cause of MIS-C is unknown, though it’s linked to the new coronavirus.
All of the roughly half-dozen cases treated at the MIS-C clinic at Norton Children’s Hospital have recovered, said Brian Holland, chief of pediatric cardiology at the University of Louisville and a member of the clinic.
Although treatment has been effective, Holland cautioned that children diagnosed with MIS-C have faced painful battles. Some have needed a ventilator or specialized IVs, he said.
“The kids we’ve treated have been really ill,” Holland said. “Without treatment, I don’t know how sick they could’ve gotten.”
The racial and ethnic disparities in the state’s MIS-C cases exacerbate the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. Two of Kentucky’s six MIS-C cases were identified as Black, two as Hispanic/Latino, one was non-Hispanic/Latino and race “unknown,” and only one as white.
In Kentucky, 15% of individuals who have died of COVID were identified as Black, a rate roughly double the state’s Black population, according to data from the state health department. Around 13% of total COVID cases were identified as Hispanic, more than triple the state’s total Hispanic population.
The CDC has received reports of 570 confirmed cases of MIS-C and 10 deaths in 40 states and Washington, D.C. Nationally, racial disparities in MIS-C patients are stark: 40% of cases are Hispanic or Latino, 33% are non-Hispanic Black, while just 13% of cases are non-Hispanic white.
“The very small sample size we’ve had is definitely similar in the demographic distribution to what’s being reported other places,” Holland said.
In May, Gov. Andy Beshear announced the first-reported case of MIS-C in Kentucky: a 10-year-old who was in critical condition and needed a ventilator. That same month, Beshear announced a 16-year-old was being hospitalized with MIS-C.
The status of these patients is unclear. The state is not releasing information on the county or COVID status of MIS-C patients due to protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Researchers are only beginning to study the nature and longer-term consequences of MIS-C, which are largely unknown. For instance, it’s not known whether hospitals are diagnosing only the most severe cases of MIS-C. Holland said patients at the MIS-C clinic seemed to develop symptoms three to six weeks after coronavirus infection.
The six patients the state has reported to the Centers for Disease Control are a 5-year-old Hispanic/Latino female, whose race is listed as “Other”; a 10-year-old Black male; an 11-year-old female, race “Other”; a 16-year-old Black female; a 16-year-old Hispanic/Latino male, race “Other”; and a 19-year-old white male.
Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack said in May that children with MIS-C initially might not show respiratory symptoms but instead exhibit a rash, fever, fatigue, aches and watery eyes.
The average age of MIS-C patients nationwide is eight years, according to the CDC. The CDC’s case definition includes patients under 21 with fever and inflammation, who have no other plausible diagnosis, and who are positive for a COVID-19 infection or have been exposed to COVID-19 within four weeks of developing symptoms.
Graham Ambrose is an investigative reporter covering social services and youth issues. He is a Report for America Corps member.