The rare autoimmune condition, Kawasaki Disease, has been in the news a lot in the past year mostly because some of its symptoms overlap with a serious coronavirus-related illness in children. It’s not unusual for Kawasaki Disease to be misdiagnosed — its symptoms resemble many other diseases.
Board-certified pediatric rheumatologist, Dr. Ruy Carrasco helps to clear up misinformation about Kawasaki Disease and explain why it’s important to get diagnosed early.
Kawasaki Disease Symptoms
It may be surprising to know that Kawasaki Disease is the leading cause of acquired heart disease in infants and young children in the U.S. While it is a rare inflammatory condition, more than 4,200 kids, mostly under 5 years old, are diagnosed with the disease each year.
One of the challenges with Kawasaki Disease is that its symptoms can mirror other conditions. Signs of Kawasaki Disease include a high, sustaining fever — one that is greater than 102 degrees and lasting more than three days, a rash all over the body, red or bloodshot eyes, very red or swollen lips, swollen hands or feet, and swollen lymph nodes. In more serious illnesses, the child may also suffer from joint pain, diarrhea, or peeling skin.
Kawasaki or COVID
There have been some worrisome COVID cases reported in children with some symptoms that resemble Kawasaki Disease. But this condition, now called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children or MIS-C, is not Kawasaki Disease and rather a serious manifestation of COVID.
“While there are some symptoms that look like coronavirus, Kawasaki is very different,” said Dr. Carrasco. MIS-C is a severe immune reaction that includes hyper-inflammation, multiorgan injury, and kidney injury and these are not signs of Kawasaki, he explains. MIS-C also seems to impact older children.
There is no single test to confirm Kawasaki disease and many symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses. This makes it challenging for physicians unfamiliar with the disease to accurately diagnose the condition in children. Pediatric rheumatologists are familiar with inflammatory diseases like Kawasaki and one should be consulted if the rare disease is suspected.
Dr. Carrasco stresses the importance of timely intervention. “In mild cases that do not impact the heart, treatment is often simple, and the child fully recovers,” said Dr. Carrasco. In these cases, a child will be treated with intravenous gamma globulin (IVIG) and possibly a course of aspirin treatment. Ongoing heart evaluations may be recommended to monitor any potential damage to the heart.
“Most children respond easily to treatment and recover quickly with no lasting side effects,” said Dr. Carrasco.
Learn more about Kawasaki Disease at KidsHealth.org.
If you have questions about Kawasaki or other inflammatory conditions in children, contact Pediatric Rheumatology Consultants at 512-494-4000.