Some children in the UK with no underlying health conditions have died from a rare inflammatory syndrome which researchers believe to be linked to COVID-19, Health Secretary Matt Hancock says.
Italian and UK medical experts are investigating a possible link between the coronavirus pandemic and clusters of severe inflammatory disease among infants who are arriving in hospital with high fevers and swollen arteries.
Doctors in northern Italy, one of the world's hardest-hit areas during the pandemic, have reported extraordinarily large numbers of children under age nine with severe cases of what appears to be Kawasaki disease, more common in parts of Asia.
"There are some children who have died who didn't have underlying health conditions," Hancock told LBC Radio on Tuesday.
"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."
Children were until now thought to be much less susceptible than their parents or grandparents to the most deadly complications wrought by the novel coronavirus, though the mysterious inflammatory disease noticed in the UK, Spain and Italy may demand a reassessment.
"It is rare, although it is very significant for those children who do get it, the number of cases is small," said Hancock, one of the ministers leading the UK's COVID-19 response.
He did not give an exact figure for the number of deaths.
Kawasaki disease, whose cause is unknown, is associated with fever, skin rashes, swelling of glands, and in severe cases, inflammation of arteries of the heart.
The UK's National Health Service says the syndrome only affects about eight in every 100,000 children every year, with most aged under five.
There is some evidence that individuals can inherit a predisposition to the disease, but the pattern is not clear.
Children either testing positive for COVID-19 or for its antibodies have presented gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea in the last two weeks, the Spanish Pediatric Association said on Monday.
Though the children were otherwise in good health, their condition could evolve within hours into shock, featuring tachycardia and hypotension even without fever.
Most cases were detected in school-age or teenage minors, and sometimes overlapped with Kawasaki disease or toxic shock syndrome (TSS).