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What is Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki (say: "kah-wuh-sock-ee") disease is an illness that young children can get (usually children under age 5). It can cause any of these symptoms:

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  • Fever
  • Skin rash
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Heart problems
  • Joint problems

Kawasaki disease is an illness that involves the skin, mouth, and lymph nodes, and most often affects kids under age 5. The cause is unknown, but if the symptoms are recognized early, kids with Kawasaki disease can fully recover within a few days. Untreated, it can lead to serious complications that can affect the heart.
Kawasaki disease occurs in 19 out of every 100,000 kids in the United States. It is most common among children of Japanese and Korean descent, but can affect all ethnic groups.

Signs and Symptoms

Kawasaki disease can't be prevented, but usually has telltale symptoms and signs that appear in phases.

The first phase, which can last for up to 2 weeks, usually involves a persistent fever higher than 104° Fahrenheit (39° Celsius) and lasts for at least 5 days.

Other symptoms that typically develop include:
  • severe redness in the eyes
  • a rash on the stomach, chest, and genitals
  • red, dry, cracked lips
  • swollen tongue with a white coating and big red bumps
  • sore, irritated throat
  • swollen palms of the hands and soles of the feet with a purple-red color
  • swollen lymph nodes

During the second phase, which usually begins within 2 weeks of when the fever started, the skin on the hands and feet may begin to peel in large pieces. The child also may experience joint pain, diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain. If your child shows any of these symptoms, call your doctor.

How does my doctor know my child has Kawasaki disease?

Your doctor has given your child an exam and asked about his or her symptoms. There isn't a special test for Kawasaki disease, but your doctor may do some tests to see if another illness could be causing the symptoms.

Children with Kawasaki disease have a fever (sometimes as high as 104°F) for 5 days or longer. Usually, they also have at least 4 of the following symptoms:

  • A red, patchy rash that may cover the whole body
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Swollen and red hands and feet and, later in the illness, peeling skin on the fingers and toes
  • Changes in the lips and mouth, such as red, cracked lips, a very red tongue and redness in the mouth and the back of the throat
  • Red, bloodshot eyes

Some children with Kawasaki disease have diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. Kawasaki disease might make your child very irritable and cross.


Doctors can manage the symptoms of Kawasaki disease if they catch it early. Symptoms often disappear within just 2 days of the start of treatment. If Kawasaki disease is treated within 10 days of the onset of symptoms, heart problems usually do not develop.


No single test can detect Kawasaki disease, so doctors usually diagnose it by evaluating the symptoms and ruling out other conditions.

Most kids diagnosed with Kawasaki disease will have a fever lasting 5 or more days and at least four of these symptoms:
  • redness in both eyes
  • changes around the lips, tongue, or mouth
  • changes in the fingers and toes, such as swelling, discoloration, or peeling
  • a rash in the trunk or genital area
  • a large swollen lymph node in the neck
  • red, swollen palms of hands and soles of feet

How is Kawasaki disease treated?

Your doctor will prescribe medicines to make your child feel better and to prevent the problems Kawasaki disease can cause.

Your doctor may give your child high doses of aspirin to lower the fever. Aspirin also helps with the rash and the joint pain. It can keep your child's blood from making clots.

After the fever goes down, your doctor might give your child a lower dose of aspirin for several weeks to reduce the chance of heart problems. (However, if your child gets the flu or chickenpox during this time, you'll have to stop giving your child aspirin for a while. When children take aspirin during the flu or chickenpox, they might get another illness called Reye's syndrome.)

Your doctor might also give your child a medicine called immunoglobulin to help prevent heart problems. Immunoglobulin is given intravenously (through your child's veins) for several hours. It has to be given in the hospital.









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