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Covid-19 and Kawasaki disease: here’s what you need to know

by Erin Lindsay
11th May 2020

With reports circulating about a possible link between Covid-19 and Kawasaki disease in children, we look at what you need to know

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, parents have been offered a small solace in children remaining largely unaffected by the disease. However, new reports of possible follow-up diseases to Covid-19 showing up in children have caused many parents to become concerned.

With new reports circulating about a possible link between Covid-19 and Kawasaki disease, a rare inflammatory disease that mostly occurs in children under the age of five, we look at the facts behind the suggested link, and the symptoms to look for if you are concerned about your child’s health during this time.

What is Kawasaki disease?

According to the HSE, Kawasaki disease, also known as mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome, is a rare condition that mainly affects children under five years of age. The disease causes a severe high temperature that does not respond to medication, and virus-like symptoms like swollen glands and rashes.

The cause of the disease is unknown, and there is no single test to confirm diagnosis. The symptoms are often very similar to those of other conditions, so a diagnosis can be hard to make.

In Ireland, 74% of people with Kawasaki disease were under five years of age (data from 2008-2009). It has also been shown that Kawasaki disease is more common among children of North Asian ethnicity, particularly Korean or Japanese children and possibly Chinese children.

How is it linked to Covid-19?

The relationship between Covid-19 and Kawasaki disease is still being investigated and there is no confirmed link as of yet. However, over the past number of weeks, there have been an increasing number of cases worldwide of children with Kawasaki disease either testing positive for Covid-19, or having antibodies present in their blood, which suggests they did have Covid-19 and are now recovered. Cases such as this have been confirmed in New York, the UK, Italy and Spain.

On Saturday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed that three children in the city had died from a ‘rare inflammatory disease’ with symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome. Cuomo confirmed that the children had tested positive for Covid-19 or the antibodies against it, “but those were not the symptoms they showed when they came into the hospital system”.

How could Covid-19 be bringing on Kawasaki disease in children?

Again, no definite link has been proven between the two diseases. However, it is thought that Kawasaki disease may come as an inflammatory response to Covid-19 in the body.

Infections of any kind can cause inflammation, and we know that Covid-19 causes inflammatory symptoms, like a high temperature and difficulty breathing. It’s possible that Covid-19 can kickstart an inflammatory response in children, which causes symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease.

What are the symptoms to look out for?

These developments are not a cause for extreme concern, but it is always a good idea to keep an eye on any symptoms that may crop up in your children. Kawasaki disease develops in three phases, with the first phase being the most acute. Here are the signs to look out for:

  • A high temperature of 38C or above is usually the first sign of Kawasaki disease, and will not respond to antibiotics or ibuprofen.
  • Changes in the hands and feet, such as swelling, and the skin becoming red and hard. They may be painful to the touch, and your child may be reluctant to walk or crawl.
  • A blotchy red rash, that usually originates around the genitals and spreads to the torso, arms and legs.
  • Red, dry, cracked or peeling lips, mouth and tongue.
  • Swollen glands
  • The whites of the eyes become red and swollen, but does not cause pain.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your children, be sure to contact your GP over the phone.

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