Children's Hospital Colorado

Kawasaki Disease

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What is pediatric Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki disease was first described in the 1960s by a pediatrician in Japan named Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki. Dr. Kawasaki described it as a new disease that was occurring in previously healthy young children. Fifty years later, with the cause of Kawasaki still unknown, doctors and researchers remain searching for answers to the very puzzling disease.

It starts with a high fever that often lasts five days or more. Children develop a rash over most of their body, swollen lymph nodes, red bloodshot eyes (conjunctivitis), red cracked lips and swollen, peeling fingers and toes.

In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, a Kawasaki-like condition began appearing in some children. This syndrome has been named multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C. Though Kawasaki disease and MIS-C share several symptoms, they are two distinct syndromes.

Who gets Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki disease is more common in males than females, and the disease is not contagious. It can occur in infants less than 6 months of age and greater than 5 years of age. Young infants have a high risk of heart complications. 

In addition to the visible symptoms, inflammation also occurs on the inside of the body in the blood vessels. This is a concern because the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart (coronary arteries) can be affected. In some cases, inflammation can damage the blood vessels or even the heart muscle itself.

What causes Kawasaki disease in kids?

Although the cause of the disease is not known, doctors and researchers (including many here at Children's Hospital Colorado) think it may be an autoimmune disease caused by an abnormal reaction of a child's own immune system. 

If properly treated, full recovery can be expected in most cases, but the possibilities of blood vessel and heart disease in later life remain subjects of medical investigation.

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