What is the new illness affecting children, what are the symptoms and is it linked to coronavirus?

28 April 2020, 12:02 | Updated: 28 April 2020, 12:23

There has been a slight rise in the number of children hospitalised with a condition called "multi-system inflammatory state".

In the last few weeks, a small number of children have been admitted to intensive care units (ICUs) with a severe immune reaction.

Doctors have said there is a slight rise in the number of children hospitalised with the condition - called "multi-system inflammatory state" - in the last three weeks in London and other parts of the UK.

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An "urgent alert" was issued on Sunday (26 April) night from the Paediatric Intensive Care Society.

What is the new illness affecting children and is it serious?

Multi-system inflammatory state is a severe immune response that can affect the body in a number of ways, including making blood vessels leaky - which is a condition called Kawasaki disease.

The condition is very serious, and can lead to a build up of fluid in the lungs and organs. Intensive care is required to support their heart, lungs, and other organs.

There has reportedly been a rise in the number of children admitted with the illness (stock image)
There has reportedly been a rise in the number of children admitted with the illness (stock image). Picture: Getty

What are the symptoms?

In a letter sent out to GPs, NHS bosses said: "Abdominal pain and gastrointestinal symptoms have been a common feature, as has cardiac inflammation. This has been observed in children with confirmed PCR positive Sars-CoV-2 infection as well as children who are PCR negative. Serological evidence of possible preceding Sars-CoV-2 infection have also been observed."

According to reports, patients admitted have been suffering symptoms like diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and persistently high temperature.

One paediatric doctor told the Telegraph: "These children are becoming unwell quite quickly. They start feeling generally unwell, with non-specific symptoms. 

"Then many of them develop rashes on the neck, forearms and abdomen. The rashes can be flat, raised, angry-looking or gentle. No patient is exactly the same. 

"Some come in with darkened knuckles, which is not normal. It suggests some form of vasculitis - inflammation of the blood vessels. It’s likely to be some form of auto-immune reaction or ischemic response, where the blood supply is restricted."

If you are worried about your child, speak to your doctor, call NHS 111, or in an emergency dial 999.

Is the new illness related to coronavirus (Covid-19)?

Doctors aren't sure whether the illness is related, but there are concerns that it may be. Hospitals have said that they have seen children with the disease who have tested both positively and negatively for coronavirus - however, these tests could be unreliable.

The letter to GPs said: "It has been reported that over 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 requiring intensive care across London and also in other regions of the UK.

"The cases have in common overlapping feature of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease with blood parameters consistent with severe Covid-19 in children.

"There is a growing concern that a Sars-CoV-2-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."

What has the government said about the illness?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he is 'very worried' about the situation, telling LBC: "I am very worried about the early signs that in rare cases there is an impact of an auto-immune response in children that causes significant disease.

Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins told Sky News: “The Chief Medical Office and NHS England are looking at this very carefully, but it demonstrates just how fast moving this virus is, and how precedented it is in its effects.

“The advice to parents, is if they’re worried about the recovery of their children then they must please seek medical help to ensure they’re being looked after by the NHS.”

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A small number of children have been admitted to intensive care with the illness (stock image)
A small number of children have been admitted to intensive care with the illness (stock image). Picture: Getty

Is the illness common?

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have assured parents that their children are unlikely to be seriously ill with Covid-19.

Although the new illness' spread is unknown, the letter adds that 'very small numbers are likely to have been affected.'

Prof Simon Kenny, NHS national clinical director for children and young people, told the Telegraph: "Thankfully Kawasaki-like diseases are very rare, as currently are serious complications in children related to Covid-19, but it is important that clinicians are made aware of any potential emerging links so that they are able to give children and young people the right care fast.

"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."

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