In this Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, students keep social distance as they walk to their classroom in Highwood, Ill. Credit: Nam Y. Huh / AP

AUSTIN, Texas — Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas is joining 29 other children’s hospitals in the United States and Canada in a study of kids who have had Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children after contracting COVID-19.

Dr. Keren Hasbani, a pediatric cardiologist and director of cardiac magnetic resonance imaging at Dell Children’s, is leading the study at the hospital.

The study is enrolling 600 kids who have had the syndrome and following them for the next five years. Since the virus began, Dell Children’s has seen 36 patients with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, also known as MISC.

MISC is characterized by kids who have had some exposure to COVID-19 four to six weeks earlier. Typically they had a mild case of COVID-19 or were asymptomatic.

Then they start to have very high fevers that cannot be controlled by medications. Their eyes become red; they might have a rash; their lips are chapped; the skin on their hands and feet starts to peel; they might have headaches and body aches; and they can be irritable.

In MISC, “the immune system goes crazy,” Hasbani said. “It overresponds to the COVID and responds to the body itself.”

These kids no longer test positive for COVID-19, but most of them have the antibodies to the virus.

Cardiologists are interested in MISC because it causes inflammation in the arteries, especially the coronary arteries, and can cause them to dilate, leading to long-term side effects.

This is the first time Dell Children’s has participated in a Pediatric Heart Network study.

Hasbani has been working with Boston Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and other centers on another study that is not part of the network. Those connections led Dell Children’s to be considered for this study and the network.

The MISC study will look at the long-term effects these kids experience. A second arm of the study will look at the genetics to try to answer why some kids have this immune response after having COVID-19 while most to do not.

Hasbani said kids with MISC tend to be older. Across the country, the average age is 14. The kids with MISC also were healthy kids before they became sick.

They do become better quickly, she said, once they are given interventions such as immunoglobulin therapy and steroids to calm down the immune system and blood thinner to stop the body from making too much clotting factor. Sometimes the kids also need extra oxygen or some adrenaline to increase heart function.

They usually spend a day or two in the intensive care unit before being moved to a regular room. They are hospitalized for three to seven days.

Hasbani is able to reassure parents that these kids do well with treatment. The information coming from hospitals in New York and Boston, where kids were first seen with MISC, also is reassuring because those children are doing well eight months later.

Children who have MISC at Dell Children’s will be followed closely even if they do not choose to enroll in the study. Most of the study is collecting data that Hasbani and her team already would collect as part of the follow-up plan to look for long-term side effects.

MISC is still very rare, Hasbani said, and parents are right to be more concerned about COVID-19 in older adults and people who are immunocompromised, but if a child has unrelenting fever for days, they should call their pediatrician or come to the emergency room.

Story by Nicole Villalpando.