Kawasaki disease is an illness that almost always affects kids, most of them under the age of 5. It’s one of the leading causes of heart disease in children. But doctors can treat it if it’s found early, and most children recover without any problem.
But Kawasaki disease doesn’t affect just the heart. It can also cause problems with lymph nodes, skin, and lining of the mouth, nose and throat.
Scientists haven’t found an exact cause for Kawasaki disease. But they think it’s probably linked to a combination of genetics, exposure to viruses and bacteria, and other environment factors, such as chemicals and irritants.
Doctors don’t think it’s contagious, though the disease sometimes occurs in community clusters. And kids are more likely to get it in the winter and spring, but they can have it throughout the year. Children of all ethnic and racial backgrounds get Kawasaki disease, but those of Asian descent are more likely to have it.
One of the most important things to know about Kawasaki disease is that it comes on fast and symptoms show up in phases. It can lead to heart trouble in as little as 10 days to 2 weeks after the symptoms start.
Signs of Kawasaki disease may include the following:
- High fever, usually lasting more than 5 days
- Rash and/or peeling skin, often between the chest and legs and in the genital or groin area, and later on the fingers and toes
- Swelling and redness in hands and bottoms of feet
- Redness in the eyes
- Enlarged glands, especially in the neck
- Irritated throat, inner mouth, and lips
- Swollen, bright red “strawberry tongue”
- Joint pain
- Stomach trouble, with diarrhea and vomiting
If your child has a fever between 101 and 103 degrees that lasts more than 4 days, and shows several of the symptoms noted, contact his doctor. Treating him early can help reduce his chances of any permanent effects.
Your child may have a lot of pain from the fever, swelling, and skin irritation. His doctor might prescribe medication to relieve these, including aspirin and others that prevent blood clots. You shouldn’t give your child any medication without talking to your doctor first.
He’ll probably also get an IV of an immune protein called gamma globulin. It will lessen his chance of heart issues when used early in his treatment. Because of the risk of complications, most children are initially treated for Kawasaki disease in the hospital.
Because it involves the heart, this illness can be scary. But most children recover completely and have no lasting problems. However, in rare cases, children can have:
- Abnormal heart rhythms (dysrhythmia)
- Inflamed heart muscles (myocarditis)
- Damaged heart valves (mitral regurgitation)
- Inflamed blood vessels (vasculitis)
These can lead to further troubles, including weak or bulging artery walls. These are called aneurysms. They could increase the chance your child will have artery blockages, which can cause internal bleeding and even heart attacks.
Some severe cases of Kawasaki disease require surgery, and a small percentage of children don’t survive the illness. Infants have a higher risk of serious complications.
You’ll likely need to follow up with your child’s doctor to be sure his heart is functioning properly. He may require X-rays, EKGs (electrocargiogram), or other tests.