A mysterious new coronavirus-related illness has hit the headlines in recent weeks, after several cases were seen in children across the globe.
The illness is being described as an ‘inflammatory syndrome’, similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome.
While little is known about the illness, scientists believe that it could soon be diagnosed with a simple blood test.
Researchers at Imperial College London have analysed blood from several children with the illness, and discovered five key compounds in their blood.
Two of the compounds, ferritin and C-reactive protein (CRP), are common blood markers for inflammation, while the others are linked to heart damage and blood clotting.
Speaking to The Guardian, Professor Michael Levin, one of the researchers on the study, said: “We know that these markers are present in the very sick patients and at lower levels in some patients with normal Kawasaki disease.
“We think they can help us decide which children are at risk of progressing to cardiac failure.
“Essentially what we’re doing is using the blood markers to try and pick out the children that we need to move from district hospitals to specialist centres and then to intensive care units if needed.”
The team now plans to carry out further studies to understand whether or not these markers are reliable.
While they’ve been given the go-ahead for a large-scale trial, experts have warned that it’s too early to know if the blood markers could be used to identify children at risk of the illness.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “If Covid is going to be with us for a while, and there’s going to be a rise in Covid cases, we are going to see more of these cases.
“So we absolutely need ways of identifying early on which children might have this as opposed to a child who just presents with a fever, so biomarkers might be exceptionally helpful in the longer term.”
Doctors have now reported cases of the mysterious illness in the UK, the US, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.
The first reports were in the UK, where there are believed to be at least 12 cases.
Meanwhile, France’s health minister, Olivier Veran, revealed earlier this month that the illness has been seen in ‘about 15 children of all ages.’
Speaking to Franceinfo, Mr Veran also confirmed that cases have been reported in Spain, Italy and Switzerland, listing fever, digestive issues and vascular inflammation as key symptoms.