New study suggests mysterious Kawasaki disease could be airborne
Tuesday, May 20, 2014, 5:35 PM - For decades, doctors have struggled to determine the cause of a mysterious disease that affects approximately 12,000 children a year in Japan, many of them under the age of five.
Kawasaki disease is a leading cause of acquired heart disease in children globally. While medical experts have figured out how to cure it, the cause remains unknown.
KD can be devastating when left untreated, leading to aneurysms that contribute to internal bleeding or heart attacks.
Many researchers believe it is an infection but a a new study suggests otherwise.
Air blowing into Japan from an agricultural portion of northeastern China appears to be causing a spike in cases of Kawasaki disease, suggesting the ailment is the result of a wind-borne toxin.
Children appear to be falling ill between six hours and two days after a shift in wind patterns, providing evidence of a short incubation period.
The findings seem to dispel the theory that Kawasaki disease is an infection. If it was, a quick incubation period would be unlikely and patients wouldn't be falling ill at roughly the same time, the study's authors say.
"Evidence indicates that the densely cultivated region of northeastern China acts as a source for the wind-borne agent of Kawasaki disease," the study's authors write.
"Our study suggests that the causative agent of KD is a preformed toxin or environmental agent rather than an organism requiring replication."
Still, some medical experts are quick to point out that the findings aren't definitive.
Anne Rowley, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, told Science Magazine that the hypothesis is “very interesting” but she remains skeptical about the wind-borne toxin theory.
If it proves to be true, Rowley told the magazine it would be "unprecedented for a human disease" adding that a number of diseases were initially attributed to unidentified toxins prior to infectious agents being classified.
The complete study can be found online at PNAS.