UK health service warns of deadly coronavirus-linked illness affecting children

Cases have symptoms of toxic shock syndrome; Paediatric Intensive Care Society clarifies that chances of kids getting seriously ill from COVID-19 are still very low

Illustrative: A child wearing a mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus is pushed in a swing by a woman in Montevideo, Uruguay, April 23, 2020.(AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)
Illustrative: Children wearing face masks play in a field at HaSharon Park, in Hadera, Israel, on March 23, 2020. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Britain’s National Health Service has sent an alert to doctors, warning them of an emerging condition that could be fatal in children and is apparently linked to COVID-19.

The development came as government ministers in Israel on Monday approved a plan to gradually reopen schools, with some children returning to class as soon as next week. The plan is dependent both on infections remaining low and on the findings of research being conducted for the Health Ministry on infection rates among children.

“It has been reported that, over the last three weeks, there has been an apparent rise in the number of children of all ages presenting with a multi-system inflammatory state requiring intensive care across London and also in other regions of the UK,” the NHS said in a letter Sunday to doctors, according to a report from the Health Service Journal.

“The cases have in common overlapping features of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease with blood parameters consistent with severe COVID-19 in children,” the letter continued. “There is a growing concern that a SARS-CoV-2-related inflammatory syndrome is emerging in children in the UK, or that there may be another, as yet unidentified, infectious pathogen associated with these cases.”

The NHS urged doctors to refer any children who have the syndrome to hospital.

It is not known how many cases of the syndrome there have been, but the number is thought to be small, UK media reported.

A version of the letter was also sent out to doctors by the Paediatric Intensive Care Society, which issued a statement Monday advising parents that the likelihood of their children developing the syndrome is very low.

“If you are a parent, please be assured that serious illness as a result of COVID-19 still appears to be a very rare event in children,” the PICS wrote.

Israel’s schools have been shut since mid-March as the government began imposing wide restrictions on movement in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Most teachers have continued to teach via teleconferencing, though the program has been met with reports of only middling success.

Kindergartners and first- through third-graders will be the first to go back to the school under the Education Ministry plan, with grades above third continuing to study remotely for now.

A closed school in the northern Israeli city of Safed, March 13, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The move to reopen schools came as Israel took its biggest step Sunday toward reopening the economy, allowing many nonessential businesses to reopen for the first time in a month, as new virus cases and the numbers of seriously ill have steadily declined.

In Israel, where most parents both work full time, reopening the economy would necessitate a solution for younger children who cannot be left unsupervised. The Bank of Israel said Thursday that the shutdown of the education system was costing the economy around NIS 2.6 billion ($737 million) per week, as many households have had to keep one parent tending to children instead of working.

The government last week allowed special education students to return to class under directives capping class sizes.

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