MIS-C Cases Spike Among North Texas Kids, but Experts Say Context Is Everything

Some North Texas kids are coming down with MIS-C.
Some North Texas kids are coming down with MIS-C. Photo by Izzy Park on Unsplash
Some "COVID long haulers" are left dealing with symptoms for weeks, or sometimes months, following infection. Yet there’s another condition that’s hitting some North Texas kids: multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

MIS-C is rare but can be fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The condition can result in inflammation of certain body parts, including the lungs, heart, kidneys, skin, brain, eyes or gastrointestinal organs.

While the cause of MIS-C is unknown, many kids with the condition previously had COVID-19 or had been around a COVID-positive person.

As of last week, the state’s health department has counted 231 cases of MIS-C — 108 of which were reported in the North Texas public health region.

But just because nearly half of the state’s cases have been reported here doesn’t mean that there’s something in the water, said Dr. Rodney E. Rohde, a professor and chair of the clinical laboratory science program at Texas State University.

“You can’t rule out that something weird is going on in North Texas,” he said, “but the more probable explanation is that population centers are bigger in that area.”

Rohde said North Texans may have better access to health care than those living in other regions. That, coupled with population density, could be part of why the region’s MIS-C case number seems so high.

Far fewer people live in the Panhandle, for instance, which may explain why the state’s health department counts fewer cases there.

Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County’s health department, thinks the North Texas region’s reporting may be better than others.

“We definitely do have a very good working system of getting information from the hospitals and staff that are designated to follow-up on those so that we can confirm,” he said. “Those numbers may be better than other places might be able to do.”

It’s also unknown how many children COVID-19 cases are found in each of the state’s public health regions. Such data could paint a clearer picture of the proportionality of MIS-C per region.

But as of now, the state's COVID-19 case data is being migrated into a different database and there isn’t a way to pull case demographics by age and region, a Texas health department spokesperson said by email.

Children younger than 12 are still ineligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine. This fall, as schools reopened and the delta variant rapidly spread throughout Texas, experts saw an increase in the proportion of children’s COVID-19 cases, Huang added.

“Statistics can really make headlines pop." — Dr. Rodney E. Rohde

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Data is being gathered about MIS-C, and as of now, there’s still not a ton of information on what causes it, said Rohde, who’s also an associate adjunct professor at Austin Community College.

Most children who have been diagnosed with MIS-C get better, but it can still be serious or fatal. Symptoms include diarrhea, stomach pain, skin rash, bloodshot eyes, dizziness or lightheadedness and vomiting, according to the CDC.

The CDC also notes that scientists are attempting to uncover why some kids fall ill with the condition while others don’t. They also don’t know whether those with certain medical conditions are more likely to come down with MIS-C.

The state’s health department reports MIS-C can be found in children ages 1 month to 18 years, and males have made up nearly two-thirds of cases here. Hispanic and Black children have accounted for 76% of Texas’ cases.

Of the 231 children hospitalized for the condition, only one is known to have died.

Parents and caregivers should take precautions to prevent COVID-19 because that’s the best way to protect their kids from MIS-C, according to the state’s health department. Public health experts recommend getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in public.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome can also occur in adults, but the most common variety is the one that affects children, Rohde said. People typically fall ill with the condition after contracting COVID-19. Yet some have reported getting MIS-C even though they'd experienced an asymptomatic coronavirus infection.

Better access to testing is another important factor in why case counts could be higher in certain places, Rohde said. The media may also play a role: Headlines can prompt some readers experiencing symptoms of illness to visit their physician.

Whatever the case, context is key.

“Statistics can really make headlines pop,” Rohde said, “but a lot of times many of us are shaking our head.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter