Research at the Kawasaki Disease Research Center at the University of California suggests an airborne toxin in seasonal winds could be infecting children in Japan and as far away as Hawaii and California.
Kawasaki disease cases have been found to peak only when winds originate from a vast cereal-farming region in northeastern China.
High-altitude air samples taken downwind around Japan found a fungus called Candida, a member of the yeast family, was in the wind. It’s known to cause a wide range of human fungal infections worldwide.
Researchers believe something that has changed in agriculture or culture since World War II could be behind the new disease.
Kawasaki disease causes a rash and uncontrollable fever in the very young, who usually fully recover. But in about 25 percent of the cases, it can also lead to a coronary aneurysm, a life-threatening ballooning of the arteries that supply the heart, decades later.
“We're looking for something new that happened (in northeast China) after World War II,” Dr. Jane Burns, who is the Director of Pediatrics at the center, told San Diego’s XETV. “A lot of changes in the agriculture; a lot of cultural changes during that time.” She added that there is no other example of something traveling across an ocean and making people sick.
Kawasaki disease causes a rash and uncontrollable fever in the very young, who usually fully recover. Children with a genetic predisposition to the disease need only to inhale the pathogen once to manifest symptoms within 24 hours.
About 100 cases of Kawasaki disease are reported in San Diego alone each year, but the highest number of children infected is in Japan.