What is the Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki disease is a childhood illness that typically affects children below the age of 5. It can also affect older children but this is not common.

In Kawasaki disease, also known as mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome, small- and medium-sized arteries in different parts of the body get inflamed. Lymph nodes are also affected.

Kawasaki disease: Causes and risk factors

The cause of Kawasaki disease is unknown though doctors believe the inflammation could be due to the body’s overreaction to a viral or bacterial infection. Most patients have a complete recovery and go on to lead normal and healthy lives.

“The incidence of Kawasaki disease in Singapore is estimated at 51.4 per 100,000 children ≤ 5 years of age,” says Associate Professor Tan Teng Hong, Head and Senior Consultant, Cardiology Service, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

“KKH sees an average of 120 new cases per year of which about half are below the age of 21. The younger the age group, the higher the incidence, and more than 90 per cent of our patients with Kawasaki disease are 5 years old or younger,” adds A/Prof Tan.

Age is not the only risk factor for Kawasaki disease. Asians have been found to be more prone to this inflammatory disease than Caucasians.

Among Asian countries, Japan has a higher incidence than countries such as China and Taiwan, which have a rate similar to Singapore. The incidence of Kawasaki disease in Japan is above 200 per 100,000 children ≤ 5 years of age while in the USA, it is 19.6 and in Australia it is 5.5 per 100,000 children ≤ 5 years of age.

Kawasaki disease is named after the Japanese doctor Tomisaku Kawasaki who first described the disease in 1967.

Symptoms of Kawasaki disease

A diagnosis of Kawasaki disease is mainly based on the following clinical signs and symptoms:

  • High fever for at least 5 days
  • Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Red, cracked lips and red-coloured, swollen tongue
  • Skin rash
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Swollen and red palms of hands and soles of feet, peeling of the skin of the extremities can occur later

Other symptoms include abdominal pain, joint pain, diarrhoea and vomiting. At a later stage of the illness, the patient may present skin peeling on the toes and fingers, especially at the tips.

Symptoms of Kawasaki disease will usually resolve with treatment or with time. However, in some patients, complications, especially those related to the heart, may develop.

Find out what are some of the complications patients with Kawasaki disease face, and the treatment options available.

Ref: R14