Seventy-one children have been admitted to the UK’s intensive care units with Covid-19, of whom half had an underlying health condition, according to a new audit.

A survey of paediatric intensive care units carried out by the Universities of Leeds and Leicester confirmed that severe illness from coronavirus in young people is rare.

The data showed that 71 children were admitted to intensive care from March 15 to June 13, of whom five died and half had underlying health conditions.

While in intensive care, 60 per cent of children needed the highest level of ventilation, typically for six days, and more than 90 per cent of the youngsters were admitted as medical emergencies.

The audit does not include data specifically for children affected by a rare syndrome linked to Covid-19, which appears to affect youngsters with African heritage more than those who are white.

The latest study, based on the Paediatric Intensive Care Audit Network (PICANet) run by the universities, found that the 71 children tested positive for the virus either before being admitted to hospital or during their stay.

Three children remained in intensive care as of June 13, while 63 were discharged to an alternative intensive care facility, another hospital ward or went home.

Almost two-thirds of the children were male (61 per cent), 30 per cent were white, almost a quarter were of Asian heritage (23 per cent) and 14 per cent were black.

Data on the ethnicity of 21 per cent of the children was unavailable. The children ranged in age from one to 13.

From the overall group, just under 60 per cent of the children were admitted for infections or respiratory conditions.

Dr Peter Davis, chairman of the PICANet Clinical Advisory Group and paediatric intensivist at Bristol Children’s Hospital, said: “Fortunately, severe Covid-19 infection in children is relatively rare, with only a small number of those children having tested positive for the virus needing intensive care support.

“Outside of London, the numbers of children affected were extremely low, with some paediatric intensive care units not caring for any Covid-19 positive children so far during this pandemic.

“The timing of Covid-19 positive (intensive care) admissions closely followed that of adult (intensive care) admissions, with a peak in early April, followed by a steady fall in cases.

“Less than two-thirds of children testing positive and admitted needed invasive ventilation and lengths of stay were generally of only a few days.

“Overall, only five deaths in paediatric intensive care units occurred in children with a positive test for the virus, although it is impossible to confirm at this stage if the death was directly attributable to Covid-19 infection or not.”

Dr Richard Feltbower, co-principal investigator at the University of Leeds, said: “Further analysis will investigate whether any of the children were experiencing a rare inflammatory disease linked to Covid-19 called paediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome.

“We will also investigate whether childhood obesity influences the risk of suffering a severe form of Covid-19.”

The researchers pointed to other studies showing that children from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds appeared to be more severely affected by Covid-19.

Earlier this month, the Evelina London Children’s Hospital said around 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the children it had treated for the rare syndrome connected to Covid-19 were from a BAME background.

The main symptoms of the syndrome are a high and persistent fever and a rash, while some children also experience abdominal pain and gastrointestinal problems.

Although some patients have required intensive care for the syndrome, others have responded quickly to treatment and been discharged.

The illness is said to be similar to Kawasaki disease, which mainly affects children under the age of five, with symptoms including a high temperature, rashes, swelling and a toxic shock-style response.

The Evelina has treated more than 70 children with the syndrome since mid-April 2020.

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