Matt Hancock has said he is “very worried” after children have been left in intensive care from a new disease thought to be linked to coronavirus.
The health secretary said on Tuesday that experts are "looking into it with great urgency" following reports of a new illness in children.
Speaking to LBC, he said: “It's a fresh, new disease that we think may be caused by coronavirus and the COVID-19 virus.
"We're not 100% sure because some of the people who got it hadn't tested positive.”
Hancock’s comments follow a warning from NHS England on Sunday of a coronavirus-related syndrome emerging in children.
"We put out at the weekend a call across the NHS because some cases of this had been identified,” said Hancock.
“This call essentially says to doctors in other parts of the country 'have you seen this condition?' and then they collate the information and find out what's going on."
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"We're doing a lot of research now but it is something we're worried about.
"What I would also stress is that it is rare. Although it is very significant for those children who do get it the number of cases is small."
One doctor told LBC presenter Nick Ferrari he was aware of about 10 children being taken to hospital with the new disease.
The NHS sent a letter warning of an “apparent rise” in admissions of children to intensive care as a result of the condition.
According to the Paediatric Intensive Care Society (PICS), the letter says: “In the last three weeks, there has been an apparent rise in the number of children of all ages presenting with a multi-system inflammatory state requiring intensive care across London and also in other regions of the UK.”
It adds: “There is a growing concern that a [COVID-19] related inflammatory syndrome is emerging in children in the UK, or that there may be another, as yet unidentified, infectious pathogen associated with these cases.”
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The NHS alert said a small number of children have shown symptoms similar to toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease, which affects children under five and can cause a high temperature, rash, swollen glands in the neck and red eyes.
It advised GPs to refer children with symptoms such as abdominal pain as a “matter of urgency”.
The alert said: "There is a growing concern that a SARS CoV-2 (COVID-19) related inflammatory syndrome is emerging in children in the UK, or that there may be another, as yet unidentified, infectious pathogen associated with these cases."
Professor Simon Kenny, NHS national clinical director for children and young people, said: “Thankfully, Kawasaki-like diseases are very rare, as currently are serious complications in children related to COVID-19, but it is important that clinicians are made aware of any potential emerging links so that they are able to give children and young people the right care fast.
“The advice to parents remains the same: if you are worried about your child for whatever reason, contact NHS 111 or your family doctor for urgent advice, or 999 in an emergency, and if a professional tells you to go to hospital, please go to hospital.”
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Update: This article was amended at 5pm on 28 April after the Department of Health and Social Care told Yahoo News UK: “The health secretary was referencing deaths we’re aware of that sadly related to Covid-19 not the inflammatory syndrome. We are not currently aware of any confirmed deaths related to the inflammatory syndrome.”
As a result, Yahoo News UK has taken all references to children dying out of the article.
Mr Hancock’s initial comments were: “There are some children who have died who didn’t have underlying health conditions. It’s a new disease that we think may be caused by coronavirus and the COVID-19 virus. We’re not 100 percent sure – because some of the people who got it hadn’t tested positive – so we’re doing a lot of research now but it is something that we’re worried about.”
Yahoo News UK is happy to make this amendment.