Kawasaki Disease: A Toddler Health Fear?

Julie Ryan Evans

sick childWhen an 8-year-old boy had a fatal heart attack in the middle of school last month, it sent chills of fear through parents everywhere. We all want to know how something like that could happen? While the cause of that particular incident hasn't been released, one of the underlying reasons experts say could cause such a rare, but horrific, incident is Kawasaki Disease.

I'm one of those borderline hypochondriac parents who has memorized the signs and symptoms of pretty much every childhood illness. For some reason, this is one I didn't know much about, but the more I read about it, the more frightening it is and the more important I realize it is for parents to know about -- not to further worry, but because it's treatable and lasting damage can often be prevented with early intervention.

Though widely a mystery, it's thought to be an autoimmune disease that typically strikes children before they're 5 years old. According to the Mayo Clinic, it comes on quickly with a few cold and flu symptoms like a high fever, red eyes, plus some other distinguishing symptoms such as:

  • A rash on the main part of the body (trunk) and in the genital area
  • Red, dry, cracked lips and an extremely red, swollen tongue ("strawberry" tongue)
  • Swollen, red skin on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck and perhaps elsewhere
  • Irritability

From there it progresses to other stages -- the final one for most children is for it to just go away, though that can take up to eight weeks. Only one in five children who get Kawasaki Disease will develop heart problems, and of those, only a small percent will have lasting damage. But that lasting damage can be fatal. It's very important to treat the disease within the first 10 days to minimize as much risk as possible. Aspirin and gamma glubulin are the standard treatments, usually administered while a child is hospitalized.

Fortunately, Kawasaki disease is relatively rare -- about 4,000 children in the United States are hospitalized for it each year in the United States. It's most common in Japan and among children of Asian descent, and more likely to occur in boys than girls, but no one knows what causes it. For more information, visit the Kawasaki Disease Foundation and file this away as information you hopefully never have to use.

Has one of your children ever had Kawasaki Disease?

Image via mollypop/Flickr

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