A 14-year-old boy with no underlying health conditions has died of the disease
Up to 100 children across the UK have been affected by an inflammatory disease that is being linked to the coronavirus, an expert has said.
A number of children have also been diagnosed with the disease in the US and elsewhere in Europe.
Doctors at Evelina London children’s hospital say the syndrome is similar to the Kawasaki illness, a rare inflammatory disease, and can cause major problems with the heart.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said “75 to 100” children in the UK have been affected by the rare disease.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that while parents should be aware of the illness, they do not need to be “too concerned”.
“We can count the number of children that have died with coronavirus on the fingers of two hands, compared to over 30,000 in adults. And that tells us most of what we need to know,” he said.
He added that there were “very few cases, 75 to 100 across the country”, saying: “The important thing to say is most are being treated well, many are going home, most haven’t gone to intensive care units.”
Hospitals across the country have been alerted by NHS England to what Evelina doctors, in an article in The Lancet medical journal, describe as a “new phenomenon” linked to coronavirus.
As of Tuesday, the Evelina hospital had seen around 50 children with the illness, according to medical director Sara Hanna, with around half since discharged.
Symptoms of the disease include a rash, swollen glands in the neck and dry cracked lips.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last month that experts are investigating the new syndrome in children “with great urgency” but has stressed it is rare.
According to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, at least 15 states are looking into the disease.
Out of 82 diagnosed cases of the inflammatory syndrome in New York, 53 children tested positive or had antibodies for coronavirus.
While a study conducted by doctors in Northern Italy concluded at least 10 children have been affected by the syndrome.
Dr Liz Whittaker, clinical lecturer in paediatric infectious diseases and immunology, at Imperial College London, said the fact that the syndrome was occurring in the middle of a pandemic, suggests the two are linked.
“You’ve got the Covid-19 peak, and then three or four weeks later we’re seeing a peak in this new phenomenon which makes us think that it’s a post-infectious phenomenon,” she said.
A 14-year-old boy spent six days in intensive care at the Evelina and tested positive for Covid-19 following his death, according to a report by his medical team published in The Lancet journal.
His main symptoms on being admitted to the hospital were a temperature over 40C, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and headache.
Dr Hanna, who is a consultant in children’s intensive care, said those with the illness have a “reasonably long stay in hospital”, with some admitted for up to two or three weeks.
“The majority are in high dependency, so not the highest level of intensive care,” she told the PA news agency.
“We have got a handful of children in intensive care but they are not currently requiring the highest levels of support, which is good as some of the children we have had prior to this have been much sicker.”
All of the children have survived apart from the 14-year-old, she said.
A “small number” have tested positive for coronavirus, she said, but this is the minority.
The youngest child in the cluster of eight cases at the Evelina was four, and two others were six, according to the report in The Lancet.
Antibody testing in collaboration with Great Ormond Street Hospital, where cases have also been reported, found evidence that those who are ill have previously had Covid-19.
Dr Hanna said there is “circumstantial evidence” that the two illnesses are related, but added: “I think most people believe that they are, because it is so temporally associated.”
Patients are being given general treatment, specifically anti-inflammatory agents – ranging from aspirin to specialist therapies – steroids and immunoglobulin infusions, while some are receiving more advanced drugs.
“They are a group of children that do require expert multi-speciality input,” she said.
“We’ve formed a team that consists of infectious diseases, rheumatology, cardiology, as an expert specialist team, supported by paediatricians and intensive care that look after them 24 hours a day.
“It’s a very small number of children in terms of the population, but it is a large number of children related to our hospital.”
Research led by Imperial College London is looking at the characteristics of those who have been admitted to hospital, while information regarding the illness is being shared across the international community.