Kawasaki disease is a serious pediatric illness that causes inflammation of the blood vessels and can damage the coronary arteries of the heart. While its symptoms can mimic many infectious and non-infectious diseases, such as scarlet fever, toxic shock syndrome and measles, it was first recognized as a separate illness in 1967 by Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki, a Japanese pediatrician.
This illness is now the most common cause of acquired heart disease in children in developed nations, and it is diagnosed in approximately 3,500-5,000 children in the United States each year. Kawasaki disease occurs most commonly among children of Asian ancestry, but it affects children of all racial and ethnic groups. Early detection and diagnosis is critical, as one in four children with this illness develop heart complications without proper treatment.
The cause of Kawasaki disease is unknown. Scientists around the world have struggled to identify the cause of Kawasaki disease for almost 40 years. This illness looks very much like an infectious disease, and although it does not appear to spread from person-to-person, this may mean that the cause of Kawasaki disease is a common infectious agent that usually results in very mild or no illness in all but a few genetically susceptible children.
The almost complete absence of Kawasaki disease in adults suggests that by the time they are adults, they may have already experienced infection with the Kawasaki disease causative agent without symptoms and they have become immune. The fact that Kawasaki disease children do not respond to antibiotic therapy suggests a viral rather than a bacterial infection as the cause. We believe that a previously unrecognized virus is the likely cause of Kawasaki disease.