It's another of those childhood diseases for which science does not know the cause. But fortunately, in the case of Kawasaki's disease, we know how to treat it.
Kawasaki's disease is an autoimmune ailment that affects the blood vessels throughout the body, and usually targets kids under the age of five. It is sometimes called mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome because it also affects lymph nodes, skin, and the mucous membranes inside the mouth, nose and throat. It becomes a source of particular concern when it inflames the walls of the the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart. Kawasaki disease is a leading cause of acquired heart disease in children, but with effective treatment, only a small percentage of children have lasting damage.
The symptoms are distinctive, and can be frightening, especially occurring in a young child:
· Fever which often is higher than 102.2 F and lasts more than five days
· Extremely red eyes (conjunctivitis) without a thick discharge
· A rash on the main part of the body and in the genital area
· Red, dry, cracked lips and an extremely red, swollen 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
See a doctor if your child has a fever that lasts more than four days, or a fever with any of the symptoms above. Note that doctors have no specific test they can use to test for Kawasaki's disease. Instead, they will offer a barrage of exams with an eye to ruling out other ailments and so diagnose Kawasaki's disease through process of elimination.
The Good News is that Kawasaki's disease will run its course on its own, after an average course of 12 days. The Bad News is that permanent heart damage is a possibility unless your child's doctor can act quickly to lower fever and inflammation.
Your child's doctor will prescribe an infusion of immune protein, also known as gamma globulin, to be administered intravenously. High doses of aspirin – to treat the inflammation, pain and fever – will also likely be on the menu. And because aspirin helps to prevent blood clotting, your child may be asked to continue to take aspirin for at least six weeks and longer, if she develops a coronary artery aneurysm.