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What is Kawasaki disease and how do children get it?

With everything else going on in the world, the advent of a new disease adds stress to an already scary situation.

However, as with everything, knowing what you’re up against – and therefore being able to take steps to avoid it – is the best way to prepare.

Kawasaki disease isn’t a new condition, but it’s gaining traction in the UK at the moment, with theories from medical professionals that it may be linked to coronavirus.

Children in the UK – with and without underlying health conditions – have been reported to have died from Kawasaki disease, and Italian doctors have also claimed that they’ve seen an increased number of cases.

Matt Hancock spoke with LBC about the disease, saying: ‘‘It’s a new disease that we think may be caused by coronavirus and the Covid-19 virus, we’re not 100% sure because some of the people who got it hadn’t tested positive, so we’re doing a lot of research now but it is something that we’re worried about.

‘It is rare, although it is very significant for those children who do get it, the number of cases is small.’

But what should you look out for?

What is Kawasaki disease?

According to Great Ormond Street Hospital: ‘Kawasaki disease is a disease that causes swelling of the blood vessels of the heart. It causes a high fever and rash.’

It typically effects children under five years old, and is more common in boys than girls.

Symptoms of Kawasaki disease include fever, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, a rash (often on the chest), red palms and soles of the feet, peeling skin on feet and hands, puffy hands and feet, and redness on the insides of the eyelids, lips tongue and inside the mouth.

Around 20% to 40% of those affected also have problems in the blood vessels or heart, which can cause breathlessness and chest pain.

The disease is normally treated with a gamma globulin drip, which can help stop the heart problems some children experience if given early enough.

Aspirin can also be taken to reduce the chance of blood clots.

How do children get Kawasaki disease?

The causes of Kawasaki disease aren’t fully known, although it’s thought it may be a combination of genetics, infections, and the body’s response to fighting infections.

In terms of the link between Kawasaki disease and coronavirus, experts are still working out the specifics.

England’s national medical director, Stephen Powis stressed it was too early to determine a link with the coronavirus, saying: ‘I’ve asked the national clinical director for children and young people to look into this as a matter of urgency. … We’re not sure at the moment.’

If it is linked, it still appears to be rare.

Keeping up with usual disease prevention measures such as social distancing and hand washing are still the best thing you can do for you and your children.

However, if you do feel that your child may have the symptoms of Kawasaki disease, contact a medical professional for advice on what to do next.

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