Health & Fitness

Covid-19 linked to disease that causes heart complications in children


A sick child. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) affects people in different ways. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 80 percent of people infected with the disease present with fewer or no symptoms at all. They thus recover from the illness without needing hospital treatment.

Those at risk of developing severe disease are older people and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease or cancer.

Even though research is still ongoing about the health effects of Covid-19, there has been a general consensus that children have a lower risk of suffering from severe symptoms of the ailment.

Despite their low risk, research indicates that the disease may be responsible for a myriad of complications in young children that might be missed by health experts.

A new study published in the Lancet Journal has revealed that Covid-19 may be linked to young children developing symptoms that are similar to a rare inflammatory condition known as Kawasaki Disease.

The ailment is a rare condition that typically affects children under the age of five. It causes blood vessels to become inflamed and swollen.

The typical symptoms of the ailment include the following: fever, rash, red eyes, dry or cracked lips, swollen glands, as well as redness on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

The condition is a leading cause of heart disease in children. However, doctors can effectively treat the ailment if they find it early. Most children usually recover without any problems.

The study was based on an analysis done by doctors at the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak in Italy.

The researchers, based in Italy’s Bergamo Province, stated that they discovered an increase in cases of young children with symptoms similar to the Kawasaki disease in the affected region.

They describe a series of 10 cases of young children with symptoms similar to the rare Kawasaki disease, appearing since the Covid-19 pandemic arose in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy.

In the past five years, only 19 children had been diagnosed of the condition in that area. Yet, the region registered 10 cases between February 18 and April 20, this year. This jump in cases has been linked to the coronavirus disease.

According to the researchers, these figures could represent a 30-fold increase in the number of cases. However, they caution that it may be difficult to draw firm conclusions with such small numbers.

Of the 10 children diagnosed with Kawasaki disease-like symptoms, eight tested positive for the coronavirus disease through an antibody test.

All of the children in the study survived. However, those who became ill during the pandemic displayed more serious symptoms than those diagnosed in the previous five years.

Indeed, about 50 percent of the children had signs of toxic shock syndrome. Worse still, more than half of them (60 percent) developed heart complications compared with those treated previously (10 percent).

In addition, children diagnosed with Kawasaki disease-like symptoms during the outbreak were much older (average age of seven years) than those that had been affected by the disease before the Covid-19 pandemic (mean age of three years).

“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 outbreak was taking hold in our region, “ said Dr Lucio Verdoni, an author of the study from the Hospital Papa Giovanni XXIII in Bergamo, Italy.

He noted that although the complication remains very rare, the new study provides further evidence on how the virus may be affecting children.

“Parents should follow local medical advice and seek medical attention immediately if their child is unwell. Most children will make a complete recovery if they receive appropriate hospital care.”

Dr Annalisa Gervasoni, another author of the study and a paediatric specialist at the hospital said: “In our experience, only a very small proportion of children with Covid-19 develop symptoms of Kawasaki Disease. 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.”

According to the authors, the findings of the study represent an association between an outbreak of Covid-19 and an inflammatory condition similar to Kawasaki Disease in the Bergamo province of Italy.

They however caution that their report is based on only a small number of cases and larger studies will be required to confirm the association.

They also warn that other countries affected by the Covid-19 pandemic might expect to see a similar rise in cases similar to Kawasaki Disease

“We are starting to see case reports of children presenting at hospital with signs of Kawasaki Disease in other areas hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, including New York and South East England. Our study provides the first clear evidence of a link between the disease and this inflammatory condition. We hope it will help doctors around the world as we try to get to grips with this unknown virus,” said Dr Lorenzo D’Antiga, the lead author of the study from the Hospital Papa Giovanni XXIII in Bergamo, Italy.