Experts urge caution over deadly syndrome in kids 'linked to Covid-19'

7 May 2020, 06:47

Scientists have urged caution over the study
Scientists have urged caution over the study. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Caution should be taken when it comes to linking Covid-19 to a new inflammatory syndrome which has been affecting some children, a scientist has said.

The World Health Organisation appealed to doctors worldwide to be on alert for the phenomenon which causes a toxic shock-style inflammatory reaction in children.

The WHO alert came after UK healthcare workers noticed the syndrome in some children infected with coronavirus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC he was "very worried" about reports of children struggling with severe symptoms that might have a link to COVID-19.

On Wednesday, a report published in The Lancet medical journal studied an "unprecedented cluster of eight children" who were admitted to hospital in April after exhibiting symptoms of toxic-shock syndrome.

According to the study, "four (of the) children had known family exposure to coronavirus" while all eight tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies.

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The children, aged four to 14, were all treated in intensive care at Evelina London Children’s Hospital.

One of the patients, a boy aged 14, died from a stroke while on life support, though the others have since been discharged from hospital.

Dr Sanjay Patel, a consultant at Southampton Children’s Hospital, told the Daily Mail newspaper: "It’s important to keep this in perspective.

"It’s a very rare condition and parents shouldn’t be alarmed.

"It remains extremely unlikely that a child will become unwell with Covid-19, and it’s even more unlikely that a child will become unwell with this condition."

However, in response to the report, Jon Cohen, emeritus professor of infectious diseases at Brighton & Sussex Medical School, said it was still far too early to jump to conclusions regarding the link between the syndrome and Covid-19.

"During the week that the report was being peer-reviewed, the same team saw another 12 patients. All the patients tested negative for (Covid-19) but 10 of the 20 were positive for antibody, suggesting that they had been exposed at some time," Prof Cohen said.

"Naturally (this) raises the suspicion of a 'new' clinical syndrome in children associated with coronavirus.

"This suspicion is underlined by the fact that six of the eight were of Afro-Caribbean descent, five were boys, and seven of the eight were clinically obese. These three characteristics align with several putative risk factors for coronavirus infection.

"Nevertheless, some caution is needed in jumping to the conclusion that this is 'paediatric Covid'.

In particular, Prof Cohen stressed that there is a wide variety of factors that could cause toxic-shock syndrome.

"The clinical syndrome described, that of atypical Kawasaki shock syndrome, or toxic-shock syndrome, can be precipitated by various stimuli and it is conceivable that this cluster was caused not by Covid but as a result of some other infective or non infective stimulus," he said.

"Nevertheless, the media reports that followed the initial description of these cases resulted in similar clusters being described in several other specialist centres, lending credence to the fact that this is indeed a new, but thankfully rare, concerning clinical syndrome."