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A new mystery illness affecting children is on the rise in the UK – and experts believe it might be linked to coronavirus.
An alert sent to healthcare professionals said in the last three weeks, there has been an “apparent rise” in the number of children of all ages presenting with a “multi-system inflammatory state”. These children have required intensive care across London and other regions of the UK.
It’s been suggested that the syndrome, which at the time of writing had not been named, could be related to Covid-19. It’s also been likened to toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease because the symptoms are similar.
What do we know so far?
The illness has been found in children who have tested positive and negative for coronavirus. Key symptoms include abdominal pain and gastrointestinal symptoms, according to the alert. Some children have also suffered cardiac inflammation, which can cause chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, acknowledged this illness during Monday’s Downing Street press conference. “We have become aware in the last few days of reports of severe illness in children which might be a Kawasaki-like disease,” he said.
“Kawasaki disease is a very rare inflammatory condition that occurs in children. The cause is not often known — it can be related to a number of things. I have asked the national clinical director for children and young people to look into this as a matter of urgency.”
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said it was “certainly plausible” this new illness could be linked to coronavirus.
During Tuesday’s daily conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “very worried” about the reports, but added that cases are “rare”. He went on to say the government “wasn’t 100% sure” it was linked to coronavirus.
“There are some children who have died who didn’t have underlying health conditions,” he said. “It’s a new disease that we think may be caused by coronavirus and the Covid-19 virus. We’re not 100% sure – because some of the people who got it hadn’t tested positive.”
So what should parents be on the lookout for?
The symptoms of Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome can be very similar, reports suggest. Here are the symptoms for each, as stated by the NHS.
Kawasaki disease symptoms
The characteristic symptoms of Kawasaki disease are a high temperature that lasts for five days or more, alongside: a rash; swollen glands in the neck; dry, cracked lips; red fingers or toes; and/or red eyes.
Toxic shock syndrome symptoms
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) symptoms will start suddenly and get worse quickly. These include: a high temperature; flu-like symptoms; feeling and being sick; diarrhoea; a widespread sunburn-like rash; lips, tongue and the whites of the eyes turning a bright red; dizziness or fainting; difficulty breathing; and/or confusion.
Should parents be worried?
Serious illness as a result of Covid-19 still appears to be rare in children, according to the Paediatric Intensive Care Society (PICS), who shared the alert.
So far, it’s been suggested that children can get coronavirus, but less often than adults and usually less serious. The symptoms parents are told to look out for are the same as those in adults – a high fever and persistent, continuous cough.
NHS England’s national clinical director for children and young people, Simon Kenny, said it’s important that clinicians are made aware of any potential emerging links between coronavirus and this new illness, so they’re able to “give children and young people the right care fast”.
When should you seek help?
If your child experiences any of the symptoms listed above, call NHS 111 or their GP for urgent advice. Phone 999 if it’s an emergency – for example, if your child is deteriorating rapidly.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RSPCH) has issued a list of symptoms in children that would require emergency medical attention. These are not all symptoms of the unnamed illness, but it’s a useful reminder of when to seek immediate help.