Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and COVID-19 are distinct presentations of SARS-CoV-2

J Clin Invest. 2020 Jul 30;140970. doi: 10.1172/JCI140970. Online ahead of print.


Background: Initial reports from the Severe Acute Respiratory Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic described children as being less susceptible to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) than adults. Subsequently, a severe and novel pediatric disorder termed Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) emerged. We report on unique hematologic and immunologic parameters that distinguish between COVID-19 and MIS-C and provide insight into pathophysiology.

Methods: We prospectively enrolled hospitalized patients with evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection and classified them as having MIS-C or COVID-19. Patients with COVID-19 were classified as having either minimal or severe disease. Cytokine profiles, viral cycle thresholds (Cts), blood smears, and soluble C5b-9 values were analyzed with clinical data. Twenty patients were enrolled (9 severe COVID-19, 5 minimal COVID-19, and 6 MIS-C). Five cytokines (IFN-γ, IL-10, IL-6, IL-8 and TNF-α) contributed to the analysis. TNF-α and IL-10 discriminated between patients with MIS-C and severe COVID-19. Cts and burr cells on blood smears also differentiated between patients with severe COVID-19 and those with MIS-C.

Conclusion: Pediatric patients with SARS-CoV-2 are at risk for critical illness with severe COVID-19 and MIS-C. Cytokine profiling and examination of peripheral blood smears may distinguish between patients with MIS-C and severe COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; Cytokines.