A British trade publication for health-care professionals has just issued an extremely ominous warning. While the world is fixated on battling the coronavirus, a small group of British children have exhibited a mysterious new respiratory syndrome.
According to the Health Service Journal, the Department of Health and Social Care has sent an urgent alert to general practitioners and pediatricians across Britain last week warning about a "serious coronavirus-related syndrome [that] may be emerging in the UK."
The alert comes following a suspicious spike in alarming respiratory cases in children, who typically don't exhibit severe coronavirus symptoms, though children as young as a few months have died due to complications related to the coronavirus.
Though the warning identifies the new syndrome as coronavirus-related, it adds later down that the new inflammatory syndrome could even be an entirely new pathogen.
It adds: “There is a growing concern that a [covid-19] 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."
Over the weekend, Health secretary Matt Hancock mentioned during a press briefing he was "very worried" about signs of a new coronavirus-linked syndrome in children, and that these cases are being investigated "as a matter of urgency."
The issue was brought up again during a briefing on Monday, when Chris Whitty, the chief medical advisor to HMG, and his Public Health England colleague Steve Powis, said colleagues were urgently investigating the link, stressing that cases were rare and it was too early to say anything more with certainty.
Scientists around the world are still debating whether children can effectively spread the virus, research that will hopefully inform the debate on when and how to 'coronavirus-proof' schools.
While almost all of the very small number of children (according to the UK gov't) who exhibited the syndrome also tested positive for the coronavirus, some didn't.
The syndrome has the characteristics of serious covid-19, but there have otherwise been relatively few cases of serious effects or deaths from coronavirus in children. Some of the children have tested positive for covid-19, and some appear to have had the virus in the past, but some have not.
The fact that very few children have become seriously ill with the virus or died, compared to adults, remains the case.
The alert was issued to GPs in North London by their clinical commissioning group. It has been sent to doctors more widely and is confirmed in a separate “urgent alert” issued last night by the Paediatric Intensive Care Society.
The alert to GPs, marked “significant alert” states: “Please refer children presenting with these symptoms as a matter of urgency."
Both messages said: “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.
As Reuters pointed out, during the worst of the outbreak in Lombardy, doctors in northern Italy reported extraordinarily large numbers of children under age 9 with severe cases of what appears to be Kawasaki disease, something that's far more common in parts of Asia.
Whatever it is, it's definitely something to keep an eye on.