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Coronavirus-related syndrome possibly behind Tennessee doctor’s death

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A rare but potentially serious coronavirus-related syndrome may be behind the death of a doctor in Tennesee, according to a local report. 

Dr. Barton Williams, a 36-year-old orthopedic doctor in Memphis, is suspected to have died from multisystem inflammatory syndrome in adults (MIS-A). 

The condition, which is similar to Kawasaki disease, has more commonly affected children since the start of the pandemic; multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) typically involves shock, heart malfunction, stomach pain and hyper inflammation, among other complications. 

Williams, who died last week at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis, may have at one time experienced an asymptomatic case of COVID-19, Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, an infectious disease expert with the hospital, told a local news station. 

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Similar to children who develop MIS-C, adults who develop MIS-A typically do so in the weeks following a coronavirus infection, in what is thought to be a delayed immune response to the virus. 

Threlkeld told the Daily Memphian that Williams tested negative for COVID-19 multiple times in the hospital, but was later found to have antibodies against the virus from natural coronavirus infection in addition to those his immune system created after he received the vaccine. 

“The immune system’s response is to eradicate the virus. One of its most fundamental features is its ability to turn itself off when it’s done,” Dr. Scott Strome, executive dean of the College of Medicine at University of Tennessee Health Science Center, told the Daily Memphian. 

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“It has to know when it’s done. It if doesn’t have that, you get an autoimmune situation. Whatever the reason, the body still thinks it has a threat and doesn’t turn itself off. Then you get this systematic inflammation,” he added. 

Still, MIS-A has not been named as the definitive cause of Williams’s death, with Threlkeld noting that an autopsy is pending. The Centers for Diease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also investigating the man’s death, he said. 

“It is difficult to make sweeping conclusions in any direction when you are talking about something that has not been reported before anywhere,” Threlkeld told the newspaper. “No one previously has been reported to have this illness (MIS) that has also had the vaccine. Thirty-three-plus million people have been vaccinated so far in the United States and not one of those people have been reported to have this process. Only people who have had the actual infections with SARS-CoV-2 have had this process occur.”

The CDC in October identified MIS-A for the first time, drawing on reports of 27 patients who had “cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, dermatologic, and neurologic symptoms without severe respiratory illness and concurrently received positive test results for SARS-CoV-2.”

There is still much unknown over MIS-A, with a deal of uncertainty over the timeline from SARS-CoV-2 infection to MIS-A onset. However, the CDC reported suggested that “MIS-A and MIS-C might represent postinfectious processes.” Adults who reported typical COVID-19 symptoms went on to develop MIS-A about two to five weeks later.

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Patients with MIS-A may not test positive for COVID-19, given the onset of the syndrome weeks later. The agency emphasized the importance of antibody testing for previous SARS-CoV-2 infection to recognize and treat MIS-A.

“Findings indicate that adult patients of all ages with current or previous SARS-CoV-2 infection can develop a hyperinflammatory syndrome resembling MIS-C,” the authors wrote at the time, adding that measures to limit COVID-19 spread may help prevent MIS-A.

Fox News’ Kayla Rivas contributed to this report. 

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