A five-year old boy has died in New York from a rare inflammatory illness believed to be linked to the coronavirus, highlighting a potential new risk for children in the pandemic.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a daily briefing that the boy died in New York City on Thursday, local time.
“This would be really painful news and would open up an entirely different chapter,” Mr Cuomo said.
“I can't tell you how many people I spoke to who took peace and solace in the fact that children were not getting infected.”
It follows concerns which were first raised among British doctors last month, when the country’s National Health Service (NHS) bosses sent letters to doctors in London warning them of their concerns about the apparent new syndrome thought to be linked to the novel coronavirus.
“This is every parent’s worst nightmare that your child may be affected by the virus,” Mr Cuomo said.
“But it is something we have to consider.”
The syndrome shares symptoms with toxic shock and Kawasaki disease, which is associated with fever, skin rashes, swelling of glands, and in severe cases, inflammation of arteries of the heart.
Mr Cuomo said health officials were investigating 73 similar cases reported across New York where children have exhibited symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease or toxic shock-like syndrome linked to COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
"While rare, we are seeing some cases where children affected with the COVID virus can become ill with symptoms similar to the Kawasaki disease or toxic shock-like syndrome that literally causes inflammation in their blood vessels," he said.
Cases of rare, life-threatening inflammatory illnesses in children associated with exposure to COVID-19 were first reported in Britain, Italy and Spain but doctors in the United States are starting to report clusters of kids with the disorder, which can attack multiple organs, impair heart function and weaken heart arteries.
This emerging syndrome, which may occur days to weeks after a COVID-19 illness, reflects the surprising ways that this entirely new coronavirus infects and sickens its human hosts.
Scientists are still trying to determine whether the syndrome is linked with the new coronavirus as not all children have tested positive for the virus.
A letter, written by the NHS to doctors in the UK last month, claimed there had been a 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.
“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 letter said.
But England’s national medical director Stephen Powis said in April it was “really too early” to say whether there is a link between the severe inflammatory symptoms seen around London and the novel coronavirus.
But the reports coming out of New York are another worrying sign.
Queensland University virologist Ian Mackay said last month it will take time for researchers to understand and substantiate any potential link with COVID-19 and the condition being reported in children.
“This damn virus raises new questions faster than we can hope to answer them. We'll need time to understand this,” he said, referring to the NHS report.
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