Medics at a hospital that treated the first child to die in France with a puzzling inflammatory condition seemingly linked to the new coronavirus initially thought the 9-year-old had scarlet fever, and sent him home.
The boy then suffered a heart attack at home that night, resulting in brain damage that later led to his death. Details of the case were released Friday by the La Timone hospital in the southern French city of Marseille. The child spent six days in intensive care at the hospital after his heart attack in the evening of May 2. Earlier that afternoon, the boy had been taken to an emergency ward in another of the city’s hospitals.
There, an experienced pediatrician examined the child and diagnosed symptoms “similar to scarlet fever,” said Doctor Fabrice Michel, who heads the pediatric intensive care unit at La Timone. Scarlet fever is generally mild, usually beginning with a temperature and a sore throat, and is easily treated with antibiotics. “The child didn’t have serious signs, justifying his return home,” Michel said. But the boy suffered a heart attack a few hours later and was rushed to intensive care at La Timone.
There, blood tests indicated the boy had been infected with COVID-19 in the previous weeks, although he didn’t have its symptoms and was no longer positive for the virus when admitted to hospital.
Instead, some of the boy’s symptoms resembled those of Kawasaki disease, a rare blood vessel disorder, Michel said. About 125 children in France have developed Kawasaki-like symptoms during the coronavirus outbreak, arousing suspicions of a link.
The death of the boy at La Timone was the first fatality in France linked to the COVID-19 syndrome. The boy died on May 8. “What is certain is that this illness is thankfully very rare,” Michel said.
Doctors outside of France have also reported small but noticeable upticks of cases, but very few fatalities, involving children with inflammations that required intensive care and other symptoms. Symptoms seen in affected children in France have included persistent high fevers, intense fatigue, rashes and stomach pains, Michel said.
Only some of the children tested positive for COVID-19, so scientists are unsure whether the symptoms are caused by the new coronavirus or by something else. The World Health Organization said Friday that it is studying the condition, which it described as having “some features similar to Kawasaki’s disease and toxic shock syndrome.”