A rare post-Covid disease is affecting up to 100 children a week - what parents need to know

Friday, 5th February 2021, 12:37 pm
Updated Friday, 5th February 2021, 12:38 pm
The condition appears to be disproportionately affecting children from ethnic minority backgrounds (Photo: Shutterstock)

Doctors have raised concerns over a rare disease that is hospitalising up to 100 children a week in the wake of them being infected with coronavirus.

The children appear to be suffering from paediatric inflammatory multi-system syndrome (PIMS), which often presents as a temperature of up to 40C, rashes, abdominal problems or dangerously low blood pressure. In some more serious cases, the symptoms present as similar to sepsis or toxic shock.

During the first wave of coronavirus, infections similar to this were thought to be Kawasaki disease - a rare condition that usually affects babies and infants.

Now, however, PIMS has been recognised as a new virus that around one in 5,000 children are contracting around a month after catching coronavirus, regardless of whether they experienced symptomatic Covid cases or not.

Currently, hospitals are reported to be admitting up to 100 children a week with the disease, compared to an average of 30 per week during the last Covid wave in April.

BAME children worst affected by PIMS

Almost four out of five children admitted to hospital with PIMS were previously healthy - according to an unpublished snapshot of cases - with 75 per cent of the children worst affected belonging to black, Asian or other ethnic minority groups.

Data collected by Dr Hermione Lyall, an expert in infectious diseases in children and the clinical director for children’s services at Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust in London revealed the average age of children contracting PIMS to be 11, though cases ranged from ages eight to 14.

Looking at data on 78 patients with PIMS who ended up in intensive care, her research also showed that 47 per cent were of Afro-Caribbean origin, while 28 per cent came from an Asian background.

Dr Liz Whittaker, the PIMS spokesperson for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told The Guardian: "We are doing research to understand why this population is affected. Genetics may be a player. But we are concerned that it is a reflection of how this is a disease of poverty, that disproportionately affects those who cannot avoid exposure due to their occupation, multi-generational households and crowded housing.”

'Parents don't need to worry'

Dr Whittaker, however, said parents should not panic about the surge in hospitalisations for PIMS, which reflects the pandemic's greater impact on adults during this wave when compared to the last.

“PIMS can be very serious. But we have seen fewer seriously unwell children [in the second wave] because there is earlier recognition and earlier treatment,” she said.

“It remains rare, and we don’t think parents should worry, as it is far more likely not to affect their child than to affect them. The numbers are low and [PIMS] would not be a reason to keep schools from opening. The median age [of onset] is nine years. We would not close playgrounds.”

If you believe your child's life to be in immediate danger, you should call 999 for help.

If your child is experiencing an urgent need for medical help that is not an emergency, you should contact 111, where an operator will help you connect with medical attention.

You can find further information about PIMS on the Great Ormond Street NHS website.