The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone, but now some are worried that children with a rare disease could be at increased risk from COVID-19. As infections rose in the United Kingdom and Italy, doctors there began to notice children coming in with symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease, a rare inflammatory syndrome. Now there are almost a hundred cases in New York and at least three deaths, and geneticists are teaming up with the state’s health department to try and get to the bottom of it.
So what is Kawasaki disease? Why are doctors looking at a possible link between it and COVID-19? And what are scientists doing to get answers?
Jane Burns is the director of the Kawasaki Disease Research Center at UC San Diego and an expert who investigated a treatment for it that’s now used around the world. When children in New York, the U.K., and Italy started coming into hospitals with symptoms similar to the inflammatory disease, she found the numbers highly unusual. “I talked to one of our collaborators in Queens who at one point over the weekend had 12 regular Kawasaki disease patients in her hospital on the ward at the same time. I’ve been studying this disease for 40 years and I have never seen that many. My world record was five,” she said. “That’s clearly extraordinary. So something’s going on and the hypothesis that we are collaborating with many other groups across the country and across the world to try to test is: Is the SARS-CoV-2 virus one of many triggers for Kawasaki disease?”