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Rare child syndrome spikes in Italy, France amid concerns over virus link


Doctors in France and northern Italy have reported spikes in cases of a rare inflammatory syndrome in young children that appears similar to one reported in the US, Britain and Spain.

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The condition, “Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome Potentially Associated with COVID-19”, shares symptoms with toxic shock and Kawasaki disease including fever, rashes, swollen glands and, in severe cases, heart inflammation.

Reports of cases have raised concerns that COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, could pose a greater risk to children than had been understood.

COVID-19 so far has taken its greatest toll on the elderly and those with chronic health conditions.

New York on Sunday said it was investigating up to 85 cases of children with the syndrome. So far three of those children, who also tested positive for COVID-19, have died, and two more deaths are under review, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

In Bergamo, Italy, between February 18 and April 20, the Hospital Papa Giovanni XXIII admitted 10 children with the syndrome, including eight who tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.

Over the last five years, doctors there had seen a total of only 19 children with Kawasaki disease, according to the report published by The Lancet late on Wednesday.

Compared to children with Kawasaki disease in the past, those they saw during the pandemic were older and more severely ill, the report said, with 60 per cent suffering heart complications and half having signs of toxic shock syndrome.

French researchers on Thursday reported Kawasaki disease-like symptoms in 17 children admitted to a Paris hospital between April 27 and May 7, while in an average two-week period they would have expected to see only one such case.

The report, by Dr. Martin Chalumeau of Necker Hospital for Sick Children, has not been peer reviewed. It was posted on the medRxiv website, which has been a major source of research on COVID-19 before official publication.

Scientists are still trying to determine whether the syndrome is linked with the new coronavirus because not all children with it have tested positive for the virus.

Some researchers have suggested the coronavirus family might trigger Kawasaki disease.

“The symptoms in children are different from adults with COVID-19 in whom the illness is more of a respiratory condition,” said Dr. George Ofori-Amanfo, division chief of Pediatric Critical Care at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital, New York.

Children with the rare inflammatory syndrome often have severe abdominal pain and vomiting that progresses to shock, Ofori-Amanfo told Reuters. He said none of the children he has seen recently with this syndrome had any underlying disease, but they all had antibodies for the coronavirus.

France, Italy death toll climbs

France’s cumulative coronavirus death has toll edged back above Spain’s as the health ministry reported that the number of people who died of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours increased by 351 or 1.3 per cent to 27,425.

Spain earlier on Thursday reported 217 new deaths, taking its toll to 27,321. France’s toll first jumped over Spain’s on Tuesday but dipped below it on Wednesday.

France has the world’s fourth-highest death toll after the US (83,720), the UK (33,186) and Italy (31,106).

Brazil, where the casualty rate is climbing quickly, has the sixth most deaths with 13,149 fatalities.

The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in France increased by 622 to 141,356 on Thursday, up 0.4 per cent and the eighth consecutive day that the case tally rose by about half a percentage point or less.

“The COVID-19 epidemic remains active and the virus is still circulating in France,” the ministry said in a statement on the fourth day after lockdown ended.

France recorded its slowest increase in the infection rate on Sunday, the last day of the 55-day lockdown, when the number of new infections went up by 209 (or 0.3 per cent), which was the lowest since well before the lockdown started on March 17.

At the peak of the epidemic on March 31, France recorded 7578 new infections in 24 hours. The government has said that it may go into selective lockdown again if the daily infection rates jumps above 3000.

Between March 23 and April 11, France on average counted nearly 4000 new infections per day and the infection rate did not fall below the 3000 threshold until after a month of strict lockdown.

On top of the confirmed cases, France has also reported nearly 40,000 probable cases in nursing homes.

Italy recorded another 262 virus deaths overnight compared with 195 the day before, while the daily tally of new cases rose to 992 from 888 on the prior day.

It was the largest number of deaths in one day since May 7.

The total death toll since the outbreak came to light on February 21 now stands at 31,368 , with confirmed cases amounting to 223,096, the fifth highest global tally behind those of the United States, Spain, Britain and Russia.

There were 855 people in intensive care on Thursday, down from 893 on Wednesday, maintaining a long-running decline. Of those originally infected, 115,228 were declared recovered against 112,541 a day earlier.

The agency said 1.820 million people had been tested for the virus against 1.779 million on Wednesday, out of a population of about 60 million.

Italy will start testing a representative sample of 150,000 people in 2000 cities next week to understand the extent of its COVID-19 epidemic, the head of the government’s scientific committee told parliament on Thursday.

Italy was the first European country to impose a country-wide lockdown in March to curb the contagion. Last week it began relaxing some of the restrictions.

-with AAP

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