Study links COVID-19 to new inflammatory syndrome in children

Syndrome has been compared to Kawasaki disease, but UK researchers have identified differences

Picture shows a child with hands across their stomach as if in pain
Picture: iStock

Researchers suggest a new inflammatory syndrome that affects children is likely to be linked to COVID-19 infection.

The illness, named paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome and temporally associated with SARS-CoV-2 (PIMS-TS), was first identified in April. There have been fewer than 200 identified cases in England.

The majority of children with signs of infection also had antibodies for the virus, suggesting PIMS-TS occurs after COVID-19, possibly due to an overreaction of the immune system, researchers led by the Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre in the UK found.

Out of 58 children suffering from severe inflammatory symptoms admitted to eight hospitals in England, 45 had evidence of current or past COVID-19 infection, according to the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Monday.

Syndrome disproportionately affects children of black and Asian heritage

The syndrome has been compared to Kawasaki disease, which mainly affects children under the age of five, with symptoms including a high temperature, rashes, swelling and a toxic shock-style response. However, the researchers noted the following in comparison to Kawasaki disease:

  • PIMS-TS is thought to be more likely to include abdominal pains and diarrhoea, as well as symptoms of persistent fever, and seems to affect older children more often, with those affected having an average age of nine.
  • Blood tests on children with PIMS-TS show more inflammation and cardiac enzymes, indicating strain on the heart.
  • The new syndrome also appears to affect those of black and Asian heritage more often.

Outcome is excellent with early identification and treatment

Evelina London Children’s Hospital consultant in paediatric infectious diseases and immunology Julia Kenny said: ‘Our analysis has shown that this is indeed a new condition.

‘Untreated, there is a risk of severe complications in very unwell children, but with early identification and treatment the outcome is excellent, with the children we are reviewing after discharge completely well.’

Antibody testing could help diagnose PIMS-TS

Although some patients with the new syndrome have required intensive care, others have responded quickly to treatment and been discharged.

Separately, University of Birmingham researchers have found that antibody testing could be used to help diagnose PIMS-TS. A study of eight children in hospital with symptoms all showed high levels of antibodies for COVID-19 when tested, indicating previous infection.

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