Doctors in Britain, Italy, Portugal and Spain are exploring a possible link between a severe inflammatory disease in children and the coronavirus. A growing number of children of various ages in several European countries have been admitted to hospitals with high fever and heart issues. Some also have suffered from gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea.
The children appear to be suffering from Kawasaki disease, which is more common in parts of Asia where it afflicts children younger than 5. Symptoms include skin rashes, gland swelling and in severe cases inflammation of the heart and blood vessels. The cause of the illness is not clear.
COVID-19, a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus, is rare in children. But an unusual spike in the number of children suffering from Kawasaki-type symptoms at the time of the coronavirus pandemic has put health authorities in Europe on alert.
After hearing from pediatricians, British National Health System issued a warning saying: “Over the last three weeks there has been an apparent rise in the number of children of all ages presenting with a multisystem inflammatory state requiring intensive care across London and also in other regions of the U.K.”
Some of the children have tested positive for coronavirus, but not all, suggesting that another pathogen could be responsible. Their blood tests revealed severe inflammation, similar to the blood tests in adults with severe COVID-19 infections.
Britain’s national medical director for England, Stephen Powis, said it was “too early to say” whether the Kawasaki-like disease and coronavirus could be linked. But at a briefing Monday he said, “I’ve asked the national clinical director for children and young people to look into this as a matter of urgency.”
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “very worried” by the reports.
Doctors treating the sick children say the symptoms indicate that their bodies could be suffering from some form of a toxic shock. Many had to be treated in intensive care.
British health authorities emphasized that children are unlikely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, but parents should seek help from a health professional if their child gets seriously ill. They also asked physicians examining children with fever and abdominal pain to include blood tests for any signs of inflammatory issues.
Italian heart specialist Matteo Ciuffreda told Reuters that doctors in the northern city of Bergamo have seen at least 20 children younger than 9 with severe vascular inflammation since the end of March, six times more than they would expect to see in a year.
He said children’s cardiologists in Madrid and Lisbon had told him they had seen similar cases. But he said only a few of the children tested positive for coronavirus. Ciuffreda said more study is needed to determine what causes the spike in Kawasaki-like symptoms in children in Europe.
American pediatricians have not reported similar cases in the United States.