Pneumonia, myocarditis, multisystem inflammatory syndrome - what Michigan doctors see in kids with COVID-19

Among the differences noted in Michigan's current wave of COVID-19 cases is the record-high number of hospitalizations among children.

According to state health officials, there are 107 kids currently in patient beds around Michigan - managing an array of symptoms that sprung from a COVID-19 infection.

"Where I work, we have seen children develop serious and life-threatening illness due to Covid in three ways," said Dr. Lauren Yagiela. "First, we have seen children develop serious and life-threatening Covid pneumonia. We have also had children develop myocarditis or heart inflammation that causes serious heart dysfunction due to a Covid infection."

"Additionally, we've had numerous children develop a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome. This syndrome can occur in children around four weeks after their initial Covid infection.," she added.

Yagiela works as a pediatric physician at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, located in one of the two surging hotspots in Michigan where the omicron variant is driving up infections. She also mentioned kids with other health problems like diabetes and asthma saw their conditions worsen following their Covid infection. 

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On top of the physical health problems, she's also seen both parents and children develop forms of post-traumatic stress disorder following a visit to the hospital.

While most recover, Yagiela said many needed life-saving treatment options or they wouldn't have survived the infection. 

Covid pneumonia

Covid pneumonia is a lung complication that affects one's ability to breath. 

When someone contracts pneumonia, their lungs become filled with fluid and grow inflamed. That can make cycling oxygen through the body difficult. In some cases, it can get so extreme that people require treatment with a ventilator.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the pneumonia that takes hold due to COVID-19 causes air sacs in both lungs to fill with fluid, which limits oxygen intake. From there, shortness of breath, a cough, and other symptoms can arise. 

Recovering from pneumonia doesn't leave lasting damage to the lungs. But the pneumonia associated with COVID-19 can be a lot more severe. It can take months after initial recover for breathing difficulties to subside. 

A study out of Northwestern published this week found the differences between pneumonia and pneumonia associated with Covid starts when the virus enters the lungs. Instead of rapidly infecting a large area of the organs, it targets small areas. 

From there, it "hijacks the lungs' own immune cells and uses them to spread across the lung over  period of many days or even weeks, like multiple wildfires spreading across a forest," read the study

It also may cause problems over the long-term, rather than in severe outcomes over a short period. 


Children with myocarditis experience inflammation of their heart muscles, which leads to chest pains, shortness of breath, and palpitations in the heart. The inflammation occurs as a reaction from the immune system upon detecting an infection or some other kind of trigger.

If untreated, it can lead to a weakening of the heart which could also cause it to fail. While most children recover from it, some do experience serious heart failure and may need long-term care. 

COVID-19 has been reported to increase the chances of someone under the age of 16 contracting myocarditis by 37 times compared to someone who hasn't been infected. Studies have also found that myocarditis is a rare side effect of the mRNA vaccine. But, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between four and seven people our of 100,000 who are vaccinated may contract the infection.

The data backs up the assertion made by health officials that an adolescent who contracts COVID-19 is much more likely to develop heart inflammation than someone who gets vaccinated against the virus. 

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome

Sometimes shortened to MIS-C, multisystem inflammatory syndrome also deals with inflammation of the heart and lungs, as well as other organs like the kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. 

The cause of MIS-C isn't yet known, the CDC reports. It's also not clear certain health conditions can increase the likelihood of a child contracting MIS-C. 

But in some cases it has been deadly to children who contract it. Symptoms include stomach pain, bloodshot eyes, diarrhea, dizziness, skin rash, and vomiting. The symptoms are known to get worse over a few days and children who have it may require urgent care. 

While the cause isn't known, many children who carry MIS-C previously had COVID-19 or was near someone who had COVID-19. 

Studies also show the rate of MIS-C in kids rises after COVID-19 waves hit regions of the U.S. - although it takes multiple weeks before the cases appear.