The New York Times sparked a panicked flurry of online searches for Kawasaki disease on Tuesday.
The paper reported that 15 children had been hospitalized in New York City with Kawasaki disease, “a mysterious illness possibly tied to COVID-19.” Google clocked over 100,000 searches for information about the disease by early Tuesday afternoon.
Fifteen children between the ages of 2 and 15 have been hospitalized in New York City with symptoms consistent with a rare disease possibly linked to the coronavirus. Health officials said the illness has features of Kawasaki disease, a serious illness first noted in children with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom.
Kawasaki syndrome is an inflammation of the blood vessels that can damage the heart in severe cases. Symptoms include fever, rashes, and swollen glands.
But there’s no reason to panic.
The pediatric community frequently overdiagnosed Kawasaki disease long before coronavirus. The medical literature has documented it. A pediatrician even joked last year about how commonly their profession overdiagnoses the disease.
Almost exactly a year ago, a pediatric ER doctor – who shares medical humor and satire on Twitter under the moniker “Doc Around The Clock” – joked that children’s hospitals often misdiagnose conditions as Kawasaki syndrome.
Pediatricians point to Kawaski even when symptoms don’t meet the criteria, according to the satirical tweet. Even when there is a more likely culprit.
But it’s not just a joke. The medical literature has documented this phenomenon for over two decades up until very recently. A 1999 study concluded:
Physicians are increasingly likely to diagnose KD in patients who do not meet complete AHA criteria.
And a 2015 study carried out at a children’s hospital in Singapore found that more than half of patients admitted with a Kawasaki disease diagnosis “did not have KD.”
Of the patients admitted with the initial diagnosis of KD, 59.2% did not have KD. 44.3% and 29.1% of KD diagnoses were missed at first visit and during reattendences respectively.
The trouble with diagnosing Kawasaki disease is it’s merely a set of symptoms. Medical journal Immunity noted in October of last year that the disease has an unknown etiology. In other words, no known cause.
Kawasaki disease might be another unwarranted panic related to coronavirus.
When a man died on a bus in China last month and tested positive for hantavirus, it became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. Social media users quickly spread misinformation that it was a novel virus like coronavirus.
The world’s worst fears about a second consecutive disease outbreak seemed imminent. But the hantavirus scare blew over in a day, and there has not been an outbreak.
Unless Kawasaki disease diagnoses continue to pile up, it’s just as likely the social media hysteria is nothing more than a case of people fighting cabin fever by inventing another reason to panic about coronavirus.
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