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Italian doctors report 30-fold increase in rare inflammatory disease in children, link it to coronavirus

Dozens of children have been diagnosed with a rare inflammatory disease, similar to Kawasaki disease, in the U.S. and Europe in recent weeks, and Italian doctors definitively linked the mysterious new malady to COVID-19 in an article published Wednesday in the British medical journal The Lancet.

"In the past month we found a 30-fold increased incidence of Kawasaki-like disease," report the doctors, from the Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in hard-hit Bergamo. The 10 children diagnosed with the disease, called pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, since the COVID-19 epidemic began were older than the toddlers usually afflicted by Kawasaki disease — the average age was 7 1/2 — and were more likely to have severe inflammation, heart complication, shock, and need for treatment with steroids along with the usual immunoglobulin therapy.

Eight of the 10 children tested positive for COVID-19, and doctors said they suspect tests missed the coronavirus in the other two. In the previous five years, the hospital treated a total of 19 Kawasaki-like patients.

"Our study provides the first clear evidence of a link between SARS-CoV-2 infection and this inflammatory condition, and we hope it will help doctors around the world as we try to get to grips with this unknown virus," said Dr Lorenzo D'Antiga, the hospital's director of child health. "I have no doubt that Kawasaki disease in these patients is caused by SARS-CoV-2."

The Italian doctors stressed that the disease is still very rare in children — no more than one child in 1,000 exposed to the virus are affected, and only a fraction of those kids need intensive care. Britain, France, Spain, Switzerland, and Italy have collectively reported about 50 cases, New York has seen about 100, and there have been infections in Louisiana, Mississippi, and California, among other states. Three kids have died from the disease in New York and Britain announced its first death on Tuesday.