A shocking photograph shows a “fun and energetic” 13-year-old girl battling the after-effect of a suspected coronavirus infection.
Grace Havens, 13, from Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, was rushed to hospital when she developed a rash following days of severe pain.
The teenager was diagnosed with Henoch-Schönlein Purpura (HSP), which causes small blood vessels in the skin, joints, intestines, and kidneys to become inflamed and bleed.
This has been likened to the rare but life-threatening Kawasaki disease, with similar symptoms appearing in a small handful of children with the coronavirus.
Grace’s mother Rachel Havens, 47, is adamant her daughter developed HSP as a result of the virus, however, it is unclear if the teenager ever had the infection.
Early research suggests the coronavirus is mild in four out of five cases, however, it can trigger a respiratory disease called COVID-19.
Speaking of her daughter’s deterioration, Havens said: “I personally believe COVID-19 is responsible for the severity of it.”
The mother-of-three and her husband Justin, 52, are awaiting the result of a blood test that should reveal if Grace has antibodies against the coronavirus.
Antibodies are immune-fighting proteins that circulate in the bloodstream after an individual has overcome an infection.
If the person encounters the same virus again, their immune system ramps up production of these “memory” antibodies, preventing the infection taking hold for a second time.
Testing positive for antibodies would indicate Grace has had the coronavirus, however, false positives may occur.
Speaking of the blood test, Havens said: “It won’t change anything for Grace. At the end of the day, I believe she had it, but it’s not going to change anything because we are where we are.
“I think what’s happening is children are getting coronavirus mildly, but it’s triggering this extra awful inflammatory syndrome in them.”
The vast majority of coronavirus complications worldwide are occurring in the elderly or those with health issues. Children tend to have mild symptoms or none at all.
Coronavirus: A ‘number of children randomly but severely affected’
Grace came home from school on 28 February complaining of abdominal pain and a fever.
After two visits to the GP, Grace was sent to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital’s children’s centre with suspected appendicitis – when the appendix becomes inflamed, or peritonitis – swelling of the membrane that lines the inner abdominal wall.
Finding no cause for concern, doctors sent Grace home.
The teenager was rushed back to hospital on 5 March when she developed a rash.
She spent the next four weeks on morphine and fentanyl as medics tried to ease her discomfort.
After losing a stone (14lb), Grace was fed both nasally and intravenously.
Blood was later discovered in her faeces, prompting doctors to transfer her to the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, where she stayed for three weeks.
As if she had not endured enough, Grace went on to develop crescentic nephritis. The severe kidney inflammation can cause the organs to lose function in days.
Thankfully, the teenager pulled through and is home with her family.
Her mother, an event planner, is speaking out to raise awareness of the dangers of the coronavirus in young people.
“While we are told the majority of children will be unharmed by [the infection], there appear to be a number who are randomly but severely affected,” she said.
“This is why I felt we should share our daughter’s story, with the aim of raising awareness in the hope that as science progresses, less lives will be affected.”
Coronavirus: Inflammation occurring in some children
HSP typically causes a purple rash, particularly on the lower body.
Some patients also develop abdominal and joint pain.
In rare cases, severe kidney damage can occur.
Although unclear, HSP is thought to come about due to an over-reaction of the immune system to an infection.
NHS doctors have been told to look out for signs of “multi-system inflammation” after intensive care units in London saw eight children with unusual symptoms, some of whom tested positive for the coronavirus.
Medics likened the mysterious inflammation to Kawasaki disease.
This is a rare condition that usually affects children under five and causes blood vessels to become inflamed, leading to heart complications in about a quarter (25%) of patients.
Left untreated, the complications can be fatal in 2% to 3% of youngsters.
Symptoms usually include fever, rash, red eyes, dry or cracked lips, swollen lymph nodes, and redness on the palms and soles of the feet.
Experts have warned these symptoms are a sign the body is overwhelmed as it tries to fight an infection.
Coronavirus: Should parents be concerned by the inflammatory disorder?
Overall, children who have caught the coronavirus have been relatively unaffected.
People under 18 made up just 2% of cases reported in a large UK study.
Speaking at a recent Science Media Centre briefing, Professor Russell Viner – president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health – estimated between 75 and 100 youngsters across the country have been admitted to hospital with the Kawasaki-like disease.
“The total numbers of children who get this syndrome are very small,” he said.
“Around 5,000 children die tragically each year. Some of these are premature babies, but 160 to 170 die in car crashes. Those deaths are tragic but also rare.
“How do we manage those? We buy child seats, we use seat belts, we sometimes buy better cars; but we don’t stop driving.
“This syndrome is much, much more rare than car accidents involving children.
“It should not stop parents sending their children back to school when schools are ready to re-open.
“What parents do need, however, is knowledge and understanding so they know what to look out for”.
As of 27 April, NHS England knew of fewer than 20 cases where an association between the coronavirus and the Kawasaki-like condition had been noted by doctors, the BBC reported.
It issued an urgent alert to GPs to be aware of the condition, but stressed no link had been established with the coronavirus.
Professor Alastair Sutcliffe, from University College London, previously said: “There is apparently a small risk but no grounds for panic.”
Coronavirus: what happened today
Read more about COVID-19
How to get a coronavirus test if you have symptoms
What you can and can’t do under lockdown rules
In pictures: How UK school classrooms could look in new normal
How public transport could look after lockdown
How our public spaces will change in the future