French boy dies of coronavirus-linked Kawasaki disease

By Kim Willsherin Paris

A nine-year-old boy from Marseille is reported to have died of Kawasaki disease, the mysterious inflammatory syndrome linked to coronavirus.

The boy is believed to be the first victim of the disease in France and only the second in Europe after a teenager died of the syndrome in London last week.

Doctors treating the French boy said he had developed a form of coronavirus but had no symptoms. He was admitted to hospital on 2 May with what medics initially thought was scarlet fever. After being treated for that he was allowed to return home as doctors said his symptoms were mild.

The boy was rushed to La Timone hospital later the same day and admitted to intensive care where he was diagnosed with “signs of Kawasaki disease”. He died six days later on 8 May after having a heart attack that caused brain damage.

French officials said the child’s death had not been formally linked to Kawasaki disease but that it was considered the most likely cause.

Fabrice Michel, the head of the children’s emergency ward at the hospital in Marseille where the child was first admitted, told Agence France-Presse that blood tests showed the boy had been in contact with coronavirus but had no symptoms.

“When admitted he had the clinical signs comparable to scarlet fever. He was seen by an experienced senior paediatrician, and a treatment corresponding to the clinical signs was prescribed,” Michel said. The child was then sent home because he showed “no sign of being seriously ill”.

When the child was taken by ambulance to La Timone hospital doctors realised “reasonably quickly” that it was not scarlet fever.

“The child was showing symptoms that could be signs of Kawasaki disease,” Michel said.

There are believed to be 144 diagnosed cases of Kawasaki disease in France, most of them in the Paris area, more than half of whom have tested positive for Covid-19.

The French public health authority, Santé Publique France, said research suggested the syndrome appeared on average around four weeks after the children were infected by Covid-19, and was possibly a reaction to the virus.

A study published in the Lancet earlier this week traced the disease in Bergamo, Italy, which has been seriously affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The study observed a 30-fold increase in Kawasaki-like disease since the outbreak, and concluded: “A similar outbreak of Kawasaki-like disease is expected in countries involved in the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic.”

Kawasaki disease is said to mainly affect children under five, but those diagnosed in France are aged from one to 14. Around 230 suspected cases have been reported in Europe, including in the UK where a 14-year-old boy died last week at the Evelina London children’s hospital.

Cases have also been observed in the US. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, confirmed on Wednesday that at least 100 children had been diagnosed in the state, including three who had died. Cases have also been reported in Louisiana, Mississippi and California. A CNN survey found hospitals and clinics in at least 18 states and Washington DC were investigating suspected cases.

A global coalition of doctors researching the condition said parents, hospitals and clinics should expect to see more cases. “We can expect that each of the epicentres will see clusters of these emerging roughly four to six weeks later,” Dr Jeffrey Burns, a critical care specialist at Boston children’s hospital, told CNN. “It makes sense that it emerged in New York first because New York had the largest and most severe outbreak.”

Additional reporting by Kenya Evelyn