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9 Childhood Illnesses: Get the Facts

You may not have heard of these childhood illnesses, but they are more common than you think.

7. Kawasaki Disease

Kawasaki disease is a very rare childhood illness with no known cause. It is a peculiar combination of symptoms including a high fever, rash, red palms and soles of the feet, swollen hands and feet, bloodshot eyes, swollen lymph glands, and chapped lips. The disease can cause the vessels of the heart to become inflamed, damaging the heart. In the hospital, doctors treat Kawasaki disease with high doses of drugs that boost the body's immune response. Most children recover with treatment, but the disease is sometimes fatal.

A doctor named Tomisaku Kawasaki first discovered the disease in Japan in the 1960s. It's still most common in Japan, but each year in the U.S., hospitals admit about 4,000 children suffering from Kawasaki disease. Most of them are children younger than age 5.

Whatever makes these children sick has eluded researchers for decades. But an idea that has some traction among scientists, Brady says, is that an infection, maybe a virus, triggers this reaction in children who have a certain genetic trait.

8. Reye's Syndrome

Reye's syndrome is a very serious but now extremely rare childhood illness. If you've ever wondered why you shouldn't give aspirin to children, Reye's is the reason. Reye's syndrome comes on suddenly after a viral illness like chickenpox or the flu. It causes liver problems and brain swelling, leading to radical behavior and personality changes, loss of conscious, seizures, and coma. About 30% of children who have fallen ill with Reye's syndrome die from it.

The cause of Reye's syndrome is still unknown, but there's a lot of evidence to suggest that it's somehow related to taking aspirin during a viral illness.

The CDC first warned about the possible link between aspirin and Reye's syndrome in 1980. Afterward, the number of cases reported each year fell sharply, from 555 cases reported in 1980, to no more than two per year between 1994 and 1997. "It really isn't something we see more than once every 10 years now," Brady says.

9. Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Pertussis, or "whooping cough," is a contagious bacterial infection. Adults and children can get the disease, but infants tend to become more severely ill with it. It's called whooping cough because it can cause a child to cough so hard and so rapidly that he runs out of breath and must inhale deeply, making a "whooping" sound.

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