“Kawasaki Disease” could reach West Coast

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San Diego – It sounds like something out of a science fiction film: a pathogen blown by the wind from China; infecting children in Japan, Hawaii and the western United States. But it is very real.

It’s called “Kawasaki Disease,” and researchers at U.C. San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography released findings Monday that it is able to travel across the Pacific.

“There’s no other example in human medicine of something traveling across an ocean and making people sick,” said Doctor Jane Burns who is the Director of Pediatrics at the Kawasaki Disease Research Center at UCSD and Rady Children’s Hospital.

Named for the researcher who discovered it, “Kawasaki Disease” infects about a hundred –primarily very young– children in the San Diego area every year.

“The eyes get bloodshot, a red rash appears, the lips turn red, the hands and feet become red and swollen,” Doctor Burns said.

While the symptoms are dramatic, the disease itself is still a relative mystery; not appearing until after the second World War and just recently –with the help of climatologists from Scripps– sourced to an agricultural area in northeast China.

“We’re looking for something new that happened after World War II,” Dr. Burns said. “A lot of changes in the agriculture; a lot of cultural changes during that time.” What those changes are causing to be put into the air is still a mystery.

Though, tests have found the presence of Candida yeast which may be a factor.

What is known is that children with a genetic predisposition, need only inhale the pathogen once to manifest symptoms within 24 hours; symptoms which are often mistaken for a simple virus. An assumption that Doctor Burns said can leave the door open to potentially deadly long term effects. “It will go away and a child may be left with silent heart damage, which has no signs or symptoms until a massive problem which could be a heart attack later in life.”

Dr. Burns said more money is needed so researchers can study an array of air samples collected over Japan and nail down what’s causing the illness.



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