The number of children treated for Kawasaki disease has increased dramatically by more than double in the past five years.
Particularly experienced in children aged five and under, the NHS has made a case for more plasma donations as cases rise.
The latest figures from NHS Blood and Transplant showed that a total of 706 children needed treatment for the disease between 2020 and 2021.
The new figures compare to an average of 336 children per year who have required treatment for the condition over the past five years.
If left untreated, Kawasaki disease can be fatal.
It is not fully known what causes Kawasaki disease, but it has been shown not to be contagious or to spread to others.
The disease causes swelling of the blood vessels around the body, which manifests itself in a rash and high fever.
It is the leading cause of heart disease in children under five years of age, with the potential for blood vessels around the heart to swell.
Dr. Vijaya Soma, of the department of pediatrics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, told Everyday Health, “The most serious possible consequence is inflammation of the vessels that supply blood to the heart.
“The main reason we treat Kawasaki disease is to try to prevent these potential cardiac consequences.”
Successful treatment of the disease is with high doses of immunoglobulin, produced from blood plasma and administered through an IV.
Plasma is filled with antibodies that are effective in treating infectious diseases.
Between 1998 and 2021, the government restricted the use of plasma for immunoglobulin as a precautionary measure, leading to a reliance on imported supply.
However, the government has recently decided to restart its national plasma collection efforts after international imports become scarcer due to global supply problems.
Currently, only 5,850 plasma donors are registered, slightly more than half of the 10,200 needed for a sufficient supply.
Gerry Gogarty, Director of Plasma for Medicines at NHS Blood and Transplant told Sky News: “There is an increasing need for plasma donors to help treat life-threatening immune disorders such as Kawasaki disease.
“You can help by donating plasma or blood — you have medicine inside you.”
WHO briefed in 2020 on a rare syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease, arising as a result of Covid-19 infection
Kawasaki disease has been the focus of research emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, as a large number of critically ill children have shown similar symptoms while being treated for Covid-19 infection.
Reports of similar cases emerged around the world throughout 2020, prompting the government to warn parents to watch out for symptoms.
The research later led to the discovery of a new condition: pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS), a rare and distinct inflammatory condition in children linked to the Covid-19 infection.
Dr. Elizabeth Whitaker, consultant in pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and principal investigator on the project said: “We based our treatment choices on our past experience with Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome, but we had to be more certain about the most effective treatments for PIMS.
“We now know that early treatment and close monitoring are key to preventing serious consequences.
“If treatment is started early enough, you can stop the inflammatory process and reduce the chance that a child will be admitted to intensive care.
“It is vital that we find answers to these important questions to help children and young people, and build on the incredible collaborative work we have seen during the pandemic.”
The NHS is now taking special plasma donations in Birmingham, Reading and Twickenham, since it restarted plasma donations for immunoglobulin in 2021.
Health Minister Neil O’Brien said: “More plasma donors are needed to treat Kawasaki disease and we are working closely with NHS Blood and Transplant to increase supplies so that we can provide patients with the best possible care.
“Thank you to existing donors who have generously stepped forward. If you can, please consider donating blood or plasma – it could save someone’s life.”