The world has now hit over 3.5 million diagnosed cases of COVID-19, with 1.2 million cases in the United States alone. Although the pandemic started in December or January, the last 6 weeks have seen a rampant growth in cases, concerns, and new medical findings. For example, doctors recently discovered the presence of small, dangerous blood clots in patients with COVID-19. But now, CNN reports that physicians in the United Kingdom found that children who contract COVID-19 are also developing Kawasaki disease.
Kawasaki disease is a rare disorder which causes arterial inflammation, particularly in the coronary arteries, which transport oxygenated blood to the heart. This condition is also called Kawasaki syndrome and mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome. It most frequently affects children under five years old. Male children, or those of Asian or Pacific Island descent, are most at risk of developing Kawasaki disease.
Doctors are unclear what causes Kawasaki disease. Potential causes include genetic factors, environmental factors, bacteria, or (like in the case of COVID-19) viral infections. However, the disease is not contagious and cannot be passed between children.
Symptoms appear in three distinct phases. First, patients experience a high fever lasting for at least three days. During this time, patients will have red eyes, swollen lymph nodes, a swollen tongue, increased irritability, dry and cracked lips, body and genital rashes, and inflamed, red skin on the hands and feet.
Next, symptoms progress to severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, joint pain, and peeling skin on the palms, feet, toes, and fingers. Finally, in the third phase, symptoms generally disappear. This can take around eight weeks.
In rare cases, complications may occur. These include heart and blood vessel inflammation, as well as heart disease, aneurysms, and coronary artery dilation. If left untreated, around 25% of patients will go on to develop these complications. However, early treatment of aspirin and gamma globulin helps reduce the risk of complications. Learn more about Kawasaki disease.
The Connection to COVID-19
According to The Hill, the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges the rising number of potential Kawasaki disease cases in the United Kingdom. Similar cases were reported in Italy, Spain, and the United States. Doctors are not entirely sure if this is an emergence of Kawasaki disease or simply:
“a late complication of the [COVID-19] infection with a hyperinflammatory syndrome of some kind.”
However, doctors in the UK note that the symptoms present in pediatric patients with COVID-19 share:
“overlapping features of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease with blood parameters.”
Toxic shock syndrome is a rare condition caused by bacteria, which produce toxins that can lead to organ failure and death if not treated. These toxins enter the bloodstream, leading to nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever, conjunctivitis, low blood pressure, and rash. Learn more about TSS from the Cleveland Clinic.
Currently, the causal link between Kawasaki disease and COVID-19 is still unclear. However, doctors in both the US and UK say that the risk of children developing, or being harmed by, COVID-19 is generally fairly small.