Dell Children’s to study rare, COVID-19-driven illness

Kevin Vu

Researchers at the Dell Children’s Medical Center are set to investigate a disease found in children caused by COVID-19 through a five-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children, or MIS-C, is a rare illness affecting children between ages 8 to 18 after a four to six week exposure to COVID-19, said Dr. Keren Hasbani, the study’s principal investigator in Austin and pediatric cardiologist at Dell Children’s Medical Center. Symptoms include high fevers, rash, redness in the eyes, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat and low blood pressure, she said.

Hasbani will begin the research in the coming weeks along with doctors at 29 other institutions across North America.

Hasbani said the study will use data from 600 children who have had MIS-C to better understand the illness, investigate the best treatment plans and observe how the illness affects children long term.

“Because it’s a new disease, we don’t know if there’s going to be side effects of the disease one year, two years, (or) three years out, so we’re going to watch these kids for five full years to see what happens,” Hasbani said.

In a Jan. 29 report, 63 cases of the illness have been confirmed in Texas, and one child has died from the disease, according to the Texas Department of Health Services website.

The illness causes a child’s immune system to produce antibodies that react to different parts of the body, such as the heart, arteries, gastrointestinal organs, lungs and brain, Hasbani said. As a result, Hasbani said, bodily organs can become inflamed, causing additional health complications.

“The inflammatory process can cause a lot of other complications, including poor function of the heart, which sometimes requires (children) to get adrenaline in the intensive care unit,” Hasbani said. “It can also cause you to increase your (blood) clot factor, which can make you have (blood) clots all over your body.”

Hasbani said 50% of children diagnosed with the illness who were treated at Dell Children’s had to go into an intensive care unit. There, the children are treated with adrenaline, steroids and immunoglobulins to help reduce inflammation, she said. Some also needed blood thinners, such as Lovenox or aspirin, to prevent clots, Hasbani said.

Hasbani said the illness is similar to Kawasaki disease. Kawasaki disease is a sickness also seen mostly in children that causes inflammation in the walls of the arteries, she said. However, she said MIS-C causes more severe inflammation.

Third-year pediatric resident Dr. Karen Carvalho will work with Hasbani to collect data to determine how heart activity and which organs are affected by the disease. She said they will also examine the factors that lead to ICU admission, including severity of symptoms.

“The more we know about these types of disease processes and what the future holds for these patients and what the characteristics look like, the better we can take care for these patients every day,” Carvalho said.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include Dr. Keren Hasbani’s title as a pediatric cardiologist at Dell Children’s Medical Center.