Coronavirus in children: What are the symptoms of new inflammatory disease that parents should look out for?

Helen Coffey
Recovering Little Child Lying in the Hospital Bed Sleeping, Mother Holds Her Hand Comforting. Focus on the Hands. Emotional Family Moment: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Between 75 and 100 children in the UK have been diagnosed with a new syndrome thought to be related to Covid-19.

The rare inflammatory disease, which is similar to the existing Kawasaki disease, affects children ranging from infants to older teenagers.

Although symptoms are fairly mild for most children, “a small proportion have become much more severely ill,” according to Russell Viner, president of Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).

Here’s everything you need to know.

How many children have been affected?

The syndrome has been spotted in children in the UK, US, Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

RCPCH has confirmed that between 75 and 100 children in the UK have been identified as having the condition. At least one child has died – a 14-year-old boy who suffered a stroke caused by complications from treatment for the syndrome.

In Bergamo, Italy, 10 children have been admitted to the Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in the past month with the Kawasaki-like disease. This represents a “30-fold increased incidence“, according to a study in medical journal The Lancet – only 19 children were diagnosed with Kawasaki disease in the previous five years.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo also confirmed a surge in incidents, with a suspected 73 cases. Three children have died from the illness there.

What are the symptoms?

A report on the 20 or so cases admitted to London Children’s Hospital found that all the children had similar symptoms.

These include ”unrelenting fever“, ”variable rash“, conjunctivitis, swelling, pain and ”significant gastrointestinal symptoms“ (such as diarrhoea and vomiting).

Parents should look out for a fever or high temperature, rashes, red eyes and lips and redness on the palms and soles of the feet.

Parents should also be aware of toxic shock syndrome symptoms – these include the above and flu-like symptoms and dizziness.

What causes it?

While it’s unclear what causes this syndrome, it’s currently thought to be linked to an abnormal immune response to infection.

An inflammatory response is triggered in the body’s immune system, which causes blood vessels to swell.

How is it linked to Covid-19?

Although children didn’t always test positive for the coronavirus, many of those who tested negative were found to have Covid-19 antibodies, suggesting they had already had and fought off the virus.

Medical professionals believe the syndrome could be caused by the effects of the antibodies created to fight Covid-19.

The peak of the new syndrome appears to be two weeks behind the peak of coronavirus infections.

Medics researching cases at the London Children’s Hospital said: “We suggest that this clinical picture represents a new phenomenon affecting previously asymptomatic children with Covid-19 infection manifesting as a hyperinflammatory syndrome with multi-organ involvement similar to Kawasaki disease shock syndrome.“

How is it different to Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki Disease is a seasonal inflammatory disorder, peaking in the winter and spring, which causes swelling of the blood vessels of the heart, a high fever and a rash.

One of the key differences is that, while Kawasaki exclusively affects young children aged five and under, the new syndrome seems most likely to affect children from five years old up to older teenagers.

Should I be worried as a parent?

Experts are stressing that there is no cause for alarm and that the syndrome is still extremely rare.

Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH, said: “We believe the numbers of deaths related to Covid-19 in children can be counted on the fingers of two hands, that’s including any of those that have been related to this syndrome.”

While a small proportion of children displaying more severe symptoms have been admitted to ICUs, “many children are very little affected at all by this,” says Viner.

Dr Simon Kenny, national clinical director for children and young people at NHS England, said that, while the syndrome was rare, parents should also not be concerned about the NHS’s ability to cope with it.

“The message again is that the NHS has the capacity,” he said. “Currently our paediatric intensive care units are at 65 per cent capacity, we’ve actually seen a reduction in children, presenting with other critical illnesses so there’s no capacity issues. Parents and families should be reassured that A&E departments and paediatricians are aware of this.”

What should I do if my child has symptoms?

“The advice to parents remains the same: if you are worried about your child for whatever reason, contact NHS 111 or your family doctor for urgent advice, or 999 in an emergency, and if a professional tells you to go to hospital, please go to hospital,” says Dr Kenny.

Read more

What is rare syndrome seen in children that may be linked to Covid-19?