Charles “Dooey” De Silva III was an outgoing six-year-old with a love for fun and a knack for karate.
In mid-January, a nagging fever, at times as high as 106, led him to the hospital in Slidell. He was sent home with antibiotics, but the fever didn’t budge.
“He just had pain,” said De Silva’s aunt, Venus McCoy, “He said everything hurt – everything.”
That’s when doctors suggested to take him to Children’s Hospital to be checked out for something his family had never heard of before.
“Kawasaki Disease is the most common arteritis of childhood and arteritis means inflammation of the arteries,” said Dr. Sam Lucas, Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at Ochsner Hospital for Children.
Doctors say Kawasaki is not common. Lucas says the prevalence of the disease is significantly higher in people with east Asian descent and is usually seen during Spring and early Summer. In East Asia, up to 1 percent of the population will get Kawasaki. In the U.S., only a tenth of that, around two to five people in every thousand, will be diagnosed. When it is seen here, it is usually in boys six months to a year old, though doctors say it has occurred at earlier and older ages. At this time, there’s no known cause.
“It seems most likely, by a lot, that Kawasaki Disease is an abnormal immune response to common infections,” said Lucas, “And the premise there is that many or most of us are infected with common illnesses like adenovirus that causes the common cold, but only very few of us, because of genetic determinants, react to that badly and have these problems that are arteritis.”
There are signs, though doctors say they can be misleading, often delaying the critical need for an urgent diagnosis. Red flags should start with a high fever that extends into five days. After that, Lakeview Regional Medical Center Internal Medicine Dr. Jacques Guillot says to look for, “A dry injected red eye. Then it can affect the mouth. You can have a sore throat. It’s common to have something called strawberry tongue – a bright red tongue and you might have bright red, cracked lips. Then it can affect the large lymph node.” Other symptoms include swollen hands and feet, which sometimes begin peeling.
“It’s not contagious from one person to the other and, again, thankfully it’s rare, but it is important to recognize when it happens,” said Guillot, “It can have serious complications.”
“The dreaded complications of Kawasaki Disease are mostly related to the heart and there are things like what we call carditis, inflammation of the heart, that can result in arrhythmias that can be fatal,” said Lucas, “And beyond the acute course, in the convalescent phase, there’s a high incidence of coronary abnormalities after Kawasaki Disease.”
Despite the disease being uncommon and difficult to identify, doctors say it can be treated fully and quickly.
“The treatment is intravenous immune globulin and aspirin,” said Guillot, “The aspirin might go on for up to two months.”
Unfortunately for De Silva, days of treatments did nothing and he was declared brain dead, leaving his family stunned. A month later, his family learned another, younger child in the community was diagnosed with the same thing. Now, they’re wanting more families to know about the rare illness.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said McCoy, “And if this can help one family not experience, then it helps.”