What to Know About Kawasaki Disease

A child with pink eye.

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Kawasaki disease is a complex childhood illness that mainly affects young children under age five.


The exact cause of Kawasaki disease is unknown, but the classic symptoms are well described and include a fever that lasts at least five days, but which can linger for three or four weeks without treatment. In addition to fever, children with classic Kawasaki disease usually have at least four of the following symptoms:

  • redness of the child's palms and soles and swelling of his hands and feet, which can lead to peeling of the child's fingers and toes about two or three weeks into the illness
  • a rash
  • redness of the whites of the child's eyes, without any discharge (non-exudative pink eye)
  • red, cracked lips, a strawberry tongue, and a red, irritated throat
  • swollen lymph glands, usually on one side of the child's neck

Other classic signs and symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

  • extreme irritability
  • hydrops (swelling) of gallbladder
  • anterior uveitis (inflammation in the eye that can be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist)
  • a desquamating (peeling) rash in the groin
  • labs which show an elevated white blood count (leukocytosis), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), and C-reactive protein (CRP), and liver function tests
  • sterile pyuria (white blood cells in the child's urine without evidence of an infection)

Children may also be diagnosed with atypical or incomplete Kawasaki disease. These children have persistent fever, but three or fewer of the other classic symptoms of Kawasaki disease. They are still diagnosed and treated for Kawasaki disease because these children have a high likelihood of developing coronary artery aneurysms—the great complication of Kawasaki disease.

The symptoms of Kawasaki disease are sometimes confused with other childhood conditions, such as scarlet fever.


Treatment, which typically involves a pediatric cardiologist, includes the use of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and high-dose aspirin.

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