While kids are just as likely to get COVID-19 as adults, their symptoms and the long-term impacts of the virus can look very different. Though around 12 million children have had COVID-19 in the United States, we’re still learning more about how this disease affects them.
How Does COVID-19 Impact Kids?
Fortunately, only about half of all children and teens who get COVID-19 show symptoms. If they do show symptoms, they might have:
- Mild to moderate fever
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
These symptoms can also occur due to normal colds and flus, so it can be hard to tell if your child has COVID-19 unless they are tested.
“In general, COVID-19 is much milder in children than adults,” says Maryanne Chrisant, MD, medical director of Pediatric Cardiac Transplant, Heart Failure, and Cardiomyopathy, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Heart Institute. “While their symptoms are typically milder, kids can have complications of COVID-19, including diabetes, heart and kidney involvement, and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).”
This rare but serious side effect of the COVID-19 infection has affected about 8,000 children in the United States.
What is MIS-C?
MIS-C occurs when your child has serious — possibly deadly — inflammation in multiple parts of their body, such as their heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs.
“This inflammation can severely impact your child’s health,” says Dr. Chrisant. “For example, it can make it hard for your child to breathe on their own or put a strain on their heart. Children with MIS-C require hospital care to get better.”
Though researchers know that MIS-C is related to COVID-19, they are still trying to uncover exactly what causes this syndrome. If you know your child has had COVID-19, you should know the signs of MIS-C, which can appear 4 to 6 weeks after they are infected. Your child might have MIS-C if they have a high, ongoing fever and at least two of the following symptoms:
- Stomach pain
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dizziness or lightheadedness (signs of low blood pressure)
- Skin rash
Contact your pediatrician right away if you think your child may have MIS-C. However, if your child shows any of the signs below, you should seek emergency medical care:
- Trouble breathing
- Pain or pressure in their chest that won’t go away
- New confusion
- Inability to wake up or stay awake
- Pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds
Children with these symptoms likely need critical care, such as oxygen support, as soon as possible.
How Can I Protect my Children from COVID-19 and MIS-C?
You can take the same steps to protect your child from both COVID-19 and MIS-C. These steps include:
- Get all children over age 5 vaccinated
- Have your child wear a mask when indoors and around crowds, especially if there is a high spread of COVID-19 in your area
- Avoid crowds as much as possible
- Have your child wash their hands frequently
- Be aware of levels of COVID-19 in your area and avoid taking your child to indoor places when levels are high
The pediatric specialists at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital stay updated on the latest research on COVID-19 and MIS-C in children. We use evidence-based treatments to help your child heal and get back to a happy, healthy childhood. Learn more through our COVID-19 Resource Center.