Length of hospital stay and the need for intensive care for pediatric COVID-19 patients with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children was not significantly different for those who presented first as outpatients or emergency patients, based on data from 34 children.
Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) can be challenging to diagnose, as the key characteristics of fever, elevated inflammatory markers, and involvement of at least two organ systems often overlap with other illnesses, said Erin B. Treemarcki, DO, of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and colleagues.
“Primary care and urgent care providers are often the first point of health care for children with symptoms of MIS-C,” the researchers wrote. In a study (Poster 142) presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, held virtually, the researchers conducted a retrospective review of 34 patients younger than 21 years who were hospitalized with MIS-C at a single center between April 2020 and December 2020. The average age of the patients was 7.9 years, 68% were male, 82% were White, and 53% first presented to an outpatient clinic.
Sixteen patients presented to an emergency department and 18 presented to an ambulatory setting. The length of hospitalization ranged from 3 to 16 days with a median of 6 days, and the PICU stay ranged from 1 to 10 days with a median of 2 days.
Overall, the length of hospital stay and rate of PICU admission were not significantly different between the emergency presentation and outpatient presentation groups. Twenty-four patients entered the PICU, 13 at admission and 11 as transfers. However, the median number of days of symptoms prior to admission was significantly higher for outpatient cases (6 days vs. 4 days, P = .03).
One patient was readmitted to the hospital within 30 days for aseptic meningitis, and none of the patients died.
Initial symptoms were not significantly different for outpatient vs. emergency department patients. The most common initial manifestations of MIS-C included fever (100%), gastrointestinal symptoms (85%), and mucocutaneous symptoms (88%). Mucocutaneous symptoms included rash, oral mucosal changes, conjunctivitis, and hand/foot edema. In addition, 65% of the patients met at least 3 criteria for Kawasaki disease, the researchers noted.
The most common elevated labs at presentation regardless of setting were D-dimer (100%), C-reactive protein (97%), ferritin (97%), procalcitonin (97%), and serum IL-6 (94%).
The study findings were limited by the small sample size and focus on data from a single center. However, the results emphasize the varied presentations of MIS-C and the importance that both primary care and urgent care providers know the signs, as they are often the first point of health care for children with MIS-C, the researchers noted.
Keep looking for factors that put children at risk
“MIS-C is probably the most serious complication of COVID in children, so we as pediatricians on the front line need to know what it looks like,” Karalyn Kinsella, MD, a pediatrician in Cheshire, Conn., said in an interview.
Dr. Kinsella said she was surprised by the study finding that children’s length of hospital stay was not affected by presentation setting.
“I would have thought the kids presenting in an outpatient setting would take longer to diagnose, and therefore have a longer hospital stay,” she noted. Instead, the take-home message is that whether the MIS-C diagnosis occurs in the outpatient or emergency setting, the length of stay is the same, and that the most common symptoms are fever, gastrointestinal, mucocutaneous, and cardiac symptoms regardless of initial presentation setting, she said.
More research is needed, and future studies should examine “any potential underlying factors making these particular kids susceptible to MIS-C,” Dr. Kinsella added.
The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Kinsella had no financial conflicts, but serves on the Pediatric News Editorial Advisory Board.