JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There has been a 20-30% increase in the number of children who have caught COVID-19 in the last several weeks, according to Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, chief of Community and Societal Pediatrics for UF Health Jacksonville.
“They can get sick, they can spread the disease and they can die from the disease,” said Goldhagen, who has warned the public since the pandemic started that any information it has heard that suggests children cannot get sick is “wrong.”
We spoke with Goldhagen this morning on The Morning Show, to learn more about a syndrome caused by a COVID-19 infection that has been discovered in children who have either contracted the virus or were exposed to the virus, but never exhibited any symptoms and therefore, their parents had no idea they had been infected.
An 8-year-old Jacksonville girl died last Saturday, and her father told News4Jax his daughter, Deaurra, developed this syndrome, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, also known as MIS-C. Dearick Nealy told us his daughter tested negative for COVID-19 but that the test also showed that she had previously been infected with the virus.
Nealy said his daughter was perfectly healthy when she started complaining about a stomach ache and then developed a fever, which he said never broke.
“MIS-C is a disease that can sometimes be fatal,” explained Goldhagen, who did not treat the little girl, but has tracked cases of the syndrome in children. “We’ve had over 50 cases so far in the state of Florida. It is an inflammatory disease, a reaction to the virus that affects multiple organs and requires hospitalization and usually intensive care and support for all the organs in the body that are affected.”
The symptoms include high fever or persistent fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, sometimes a skin rash and sometimes lesions in the mouth.
“If families are concerned about their child, I would say a persistent fever is enough to warrant a call to their pediatrician to begin to discuss what to look for,” Goldhagen said. “The earlier the family gets to the hospital, the better the outcome will be for the child.”
There have been cases when the child develops the syndrome several days after exposure to the virus or even weeks later. Parents are often unaware that their child had even been exposed or infected since many are asymptomatic. It is not until they develop MIS-C that the parent even becomes aware of a previous COVID-19 infection in their child, which is why it is so important to be aware of the warning signs of MIS-C.
“We don’t know much about the disease at this point,” explained Goldhagen, but he said the majority of children who present with the syndrome are in their mid-childhood years. This is typically between 9-10 years old.
“Interestingly enough, the majority of children who are impacted are minority, either African-American or Hispanic. That seems to be a risk factor, although it is unclear why that might be,” he said. “We do know there is a higher prevalence of COVID in those communities, and it may just be that there are more children being exposed in those communities.”
While data has suggested that people with underlying conditions are more likely to get severely sick or die if infected with the coronavirus, perfectly healthy children can still get very sick or die from MIS-C. Why? The syndrome is the body’s reaction to the virus and that reaction can happen in children who have no underlying conditions.
Goldhagen also reiterated that while there has been some suggestion that asymptomatic children can pass the disease to adults, parents need to understand they can give the virus to their children.
“It may be that adults who are not socially isolating, who are not wearing masks, who are coming down with the disease, many of whom are asymptomatic, are in fact spreading the disease to their children,” Goldhagen warned.