Kawasaki disease: Rise in coronavirus-linked disease in children is ‘tip of iceberg’
Kawasaki disease is a condition that mainly affects children under the age of five. Kawasaki disease causes the blood vessels to become inflamed and swollen, which can lead to complications in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart (coronary arteries). If the condition goes untreated, it may prove fatal.
- Coronavirus symptoms: Coronavirus-related illness found in children
A recent development has brought the deadly disease back into national conversation.
There has been a surge in cases of children being admitted to intensive care with the potentially deadly disease over the last month.
It is thought to have affected between 75 and 100 children in the UK, including a 14-year-old boy who has died.
This worrying trend, exacerbated by fears that it is linked to COVID-19, prompted researchers to carry out research to understand more about the condition.
Now Dr Liz Whittaker, a clinical lecturer in paediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Imperial College London, has warned the cases seen so far are just the tip of the iceberg.
The data she has managed to compile in just two weeks suggests the peak of the new syndrome is following behind the peak of COVID-19 by about two to three weeks.
Speaking at a science media briefing, Dr Whittaker said: “The likelihood is that it’s an iceberg, where the very tip of the cohort that we see above the water is the very sick children and there might be other children below the water that we are only picking up now.
“One of the things that is quite interesting is that the peak that we’re seeing in these children is several weeks after the peak of COVID-19 across the country.
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She continued: “We estimate in London that the peak of COVID-19 was around the first to the second week in April, whereas we think we saw the peak of these children last week and this week.
“The feeling amongst my colleagues is that the numbers are starting to drop down a little bit now hopefully.”
Dr Whittaker said that most of the children tested negative for COVID-19, but all of them had positive antibodies to the virus.
She suggested that this could indicate that some children are having a delayed response to the virus several weeks after being infected – which is why it’s not being picked up in tests.
- Expert reaveals all about ‘rare’ Kawasaki disease in children
“We’ve called it paediatric inflammatory multi-system syndrome, which is temporarily associated with SARS-CoV-2,” she said.
Dr Whittaker added: “We’re very careful to do that because we can’t definitely say that every single child has Covid at the time they’re unwell.
“But this new phenomenon is happening in the middle of a pandemic so it seems pretty reasonable to suggest that the two things are related.”
As Dr Whittaker explained, the children admitted to intensive care displayed similar symptoms to those associated with COVID-19.
Preliminary data has identified the following symptoms:
- A rash
- Swollen glands in the neck
- Dry, cracked lips
- Red fingers or toes
- Red eyes
At the end of last month, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty commented on the emerging trend in the daily press conference.
Prof Whitty said: “This is a very rare situation, but I think it is entirely plausible that this is caused by this virus, at least in some cases.
“We know that in adults, who of course have much more disease than children do, the big problems are caused by an inflammatory process, and this looks like an inflammatory process, albeit a very different one.
“Therefore, given we’ve been given a new presentation of this, at a time with a new disease, the possibility – it’s not definite, we need to look at other causes too – but the possibility that there’s a link is certainly plausible.”
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