Black and Latino children are much more likely to be diagnosed with a rare inflammatory syndrome linked to COVID-19, a new study finds.

Researchers at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, analyzed a small group for kids to see if they had developed Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).

They found that black children were at the highest risk, representing 46 percent of the patients in the study group, four times higher than the number of white children with the condition.

The researchers also looked at aspects of the patients’ immune systems, finding that MIS-C occurs a few weeks after a child becomes infected with COVID-19 due to a hyperactive immune system.

The authors say it’s unclear why children of color are more affected, but that the findings shed new light on this rare yet dangerous condition in children – which may become more prevalent as variants pose a risk to young children who aren’t yet vaccinated.

MIS-C, a condition that severely impacts a small number of children infected with Covid, is more common in black and Latino populations. Pictured: A five-year-old child in a hospital bed at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla NY, May 2020

 Children’s National Hospital found that 46 percent of MIS-C patients were black while only 11 percent were white, meaning black children were four times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition

It’s difficult to dispute the disproportionate burden that Covid has placed on people of color in the U.S.

Black Americans are twice as likely to have died of Covid than white Americans, according to analysis by APM Research Lab. 

Native Americans are more than three times more likely to have died of Covid.

The disparity is particularly stark for Covid’s youngest victims. 

Black children ages 0 to 17 make up about 27 percent of the U.S. population, yet they account for 35 percent of the COVID deaths in this age group, per the CDC.

One reason why children of color have been harder hit by Covid is, they’re more likely to be struck by MIS-C.

MIS-C is a rare condition associated with Covid in which children’s immune systems become hyperactive, causing severe inflammation (or swelling). It typically occurs four to six weeks after a child is infected.

Children with this condition can become severely ill – even though they may experience mild symptoms during their initial Covid infection.

As of June 2, over 4,000 MIS-C cases have been reported in the U.S and 36 children have died.

The CDC reports that 32 percent of MIS-C patients have been Hispanic/Latino children and 30 percent have been black children, compared to 28 percent white children.

The condition is most prevalent in Southern states and a couple of West coast states, which tend to have larger black and Hispanic/Latino populations.

For the study, published Friday in The Journal of Pediatrics , the researchers studied 124 children who had symptoms matching MIS-C. 63 were ultimately diagnosed with the condition, 39 of whom had positive COVID tests. 

Black and Hispanic/Latino children were significantly overrepresented in this group of MIS-C patients.

Black children made up 46 percent of the group and Hispanic/Latino children made up 35 percent. White children made up only 11 percent of the group.

Hispanic/Latino and black children make up the majority of MIS-C patients despite making up a smaller percent of the general population

California has the highest number of MIS-C cases, at over 300

Notably, none of the children with confirmed cases of MIS-C – verified by a positive Covid test – were white.

Only 35 percent of the MIS-C patients had underlying conditions such as diabetes or respiratory diseases that made patients more vulnerable to severe Covid. This is distinct from severe Covid cases in adults.

Of the 63 MIS-C patients in the group, over half (52 percent) required critical care and were admitted to the ICU.

Heart problems were more common in those critically ill patients – 55 percent of those who went to the ICU saw this complication. 

Some of the patients who did not go to the ICU (28 percent) also had heart problems, however, reflecting the complex nature of MIS-C symptoms.

The researchers studied different aspects of the MIS-C patients’ immune systems, including the levels of virus and virus-fighting antibodies in their blood.

These findings suggested that MIS-C starts a couple of weeks after a child is infected with Covid as part of a hyperactive immune response – backing up past research into the condition.

‘Data like this will be critical for the development of clinical trials around the long-term implications of MIS-C,’ said Dr Roberta DeBiasi, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National and lead author on the study.

‘Our study sheds light on the demographic, clinical and biomarker features of this disease, as well as viral load and viral sequencing.’

In a more unique move, the researchers also sequenced samples from their MIS-C patients. They found no major differences in Covid lineages between different groups of patients, or between their MIS-C patients and Covid patients in the U.S. overall.

‘The fact that there were no notable sequencing differences between our MIS-C and primary COVID cohorts suggests that variations in host genetics and/or immune response are more likely primary determinants of how MIS-C presents itself, rather than virus-specific factors,’ DeBiasi said.

However, this study was conducted before major variants of concern – such as Alpha from the U.K. and Delta from India – started circulating widely in the U.S.

‘As we’ve seen new variants continue to emerge, it will be important to study their effect on the frequency and severity of MIS-C,’ DeBiasi said.

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