Mysterious disease affecting children linked to coronavirus
Alok Gupta

A mysterious inflammation affecting children is strongly linked with the novel coronavirus, revealed a detailed analysis by Italian doctors published on Wednesday.

Medical staffs in many countries, mostly in the UK and U.S., were perplexed with the rare condition resembling Kawasaki disease while treating young children in coronavirus hit regions.

The condition, rarely life-threatening if appropriately treated, requires immediate hospitalization of patients. More than 100 such cases were reported from the U.S. and 50 from European countries, triggering panic among parents.

In a detailed study published in the medical journal, The Lancet, doctors in the Bergamo province—worst coronavirus affected region— of Italy found the number of children suffering from the inflammation increased considerably during the outbreak.

Before the pandemic, only 19 children in the region were diagnosed with the disease in the last five years, until mid-February, 2020. But within three months, between February 18 to April 20, hospitals reported 10 such cases, a 30-fold increase.

"We noticed an increase in the number of children being referred to our hospital with an inflammatory condition similar to Kawasaki Disease around the time the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak was taking hold in our region," said Dr. Lucio Verdoni, author of the study.

Nearly 80 percent of the children infected with the coronavirus had severe symptoms of the inflammation in the region. But inflammation was much milder among patients in the previous five years. The patients hospitalized during the pandemic were older; the average age was 7.5 years. In previous cases, the patients' average age was three years.

Researchers, keeping in view the difference in symptoms and severity of the cases, feel that the novel coronavirus related inflammation cases "should be classified as 'Kawasaki-like Disease."

The Kawasaki disease inflames blood vessels, leading to heart-related complications among children. The most common symptoms include fever and rash, red eyes, dry or cracked lips or mouth, redness on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, and swollen glands.

There is no medical explanation about what causes the disease, but it's believed that inflammation is a result of the immune system's overreaction to an infection. Other countries facing the novel coronavirus pandemic might witness an increase in the cases of Kawasaki-like Disease, warned the researchers.

"In our experience, only a very small proportion of children infected with SARS-CoV-2 develop symptoms of Kawasaki Disease," said Dr. Annalisa Gervasoni, another author of the study and a pediatric specialist at the Hospital Papa Giovanni XXIII in Bergamo.

"However, it is important to understand the consequences of the virus in children, particularly as countries around the world grapple with plans to start relaxing social distancing policies," Gervasoni added.

(Cover: Children wearing face masks are seen at a street, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Milan, Italy, April 6, 2020. /Reuters)