By Peter Andrews, Irish science journalist and writer based in London. He has a background in the life sciences, and graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in genetics
Children have largely been spared from the coronavirus. But now British GPs have warned of youngsters being hit by a mysterious virus-like syndrome that may be an offshoot of the virus, or a new infectious pathogen.
An “urgent alert” has been issued to British doctors as what seems to be a serious coronavirus-related syndrome that affects children emerges in the population.
On Monday, the Health Service Journal reported that they had been shown a memo which was sent to general practitioners in North London practices by their clinical commissioning group. The Paediatric Intensive Care Society sent another memo marked “significant alert” on Sunday night, confirming the worrying news.
The alerts say that, over the past 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 UK.” They continue: “There is a growing concern that a [Covid-19] related inflammatory syndrome is emerging in children in the UK, or that there may be another, as yet unidentified, infectious pathogen associated with these cases.”
This alert also states: “Please refer children presenting with these symptoms as a matter of urgency.”
This mysterious syndrome bears similarities to severe Covid-19. According to the alerts, “The cases have in common overlapping features of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki Disease with blood parameters consistent with severe Covid-19 in children.”Kawasaki Disease is a rare immune system disorder that usually affects children younger than five years old, causing severe fever and virus-like symptoms. Other symptoms of the new syndrome include abdominal pain, gastrointestinal symptoms and cardiac inflammation.
Strangely though, while some of the children have tested positive for Covid-19, not all of them have, and others still are thought to have previously been infected. The memo is light on detail, as little is known for certain about the potential syndrome at this early stage. It does, however, present a concerning new chapter in the story of Covid-19.
So far, the one silver lining of the novel coronavirus has been that the vast majority of the time, it seems to pass over children unharmed. Children rarely present with symptoms, although there have been a handful of cases of children becoming critically ill and even dying of Covid-19. But these cases have been mercifully few and far between.
Thankfully, pediatricians say that so far, very few children have been affected by the new syndrome. Nevertheless, any indication of a new pediatric condition emerging sets alarm bells ringing as to whether Covid-19, or some other feature of the coronavirus crisis, could be involved.