Medical experts home in on syndrome that attacks mainly black kids with Covid-19

14 November 2020 - 14:53
Medical researchers from across SA have teamed up to gather data about multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children.
Medical researchers from across SA have teamed up to gather data about multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children.
Image: 123RF/perig76

Medical researchers led by the University of Cape Town are collecting data on a rare new syndrome that mainly attacks black children infected with Covid-19.

Paediatric specialists from across the country have teamed up to gather data that will provide a better understanding of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

MIS-C is a rare disease which develops a few weeks after the onset of Covid-19. A cluster of children have become critically ill with the syndrome in the Western Cape.

“The majority of our patients are of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) origin, and this has been the trend throughout the world. We don’t know why this is,” said Dr Kate Webb, who is leading the research at UCT.

Children are widely thought to be at low risk of being infected with Covid-19. But the UCT team said the true incidence in children was unknown, possibly because their milder symptoms lead to a low rate of testing.

Webb, a paediatric rheumatologist, said symptoms of MIS-C include fevers, rashes, abdominal pain and problems with the heart and other organs.

She has teamed up with UCT paediatric cardiologist Prof Liesl Zühlke for the research project, which aims to capture data from children with Covid-19 and MIS-C across the country.

This should lead to “locally appropriate, evidence-based disease mitigation, risk stratification and treatment strategies”, said Webb.

“We will be working hard to make sure that African and SA children get represented in the global data.”

Zühlke and Webb saw their first case in June. “As our pandemic was a bit later than in Europe and the [US], we were forewarned about MIS-C,” she said.

“So as soon as we started seeing cases, we knew that we were well placed to gather data and start to perform research to rapidly learn more about this new disease.

“This disease has no evidence-based treatment or diagnostic guidelines. So we set up the group to spread awareness, learn from each other and work together to get answers and conduct this really urgent research.” 

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