4 children admitted to San Diego with rare airborne illness

Four pediatric patients were admitted to San Diego-based Rady Hospital from Oct. 9-14 and diagnosed with a rare childhood condition called Kawasaki disease, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Here are five things to know:

1. Researchers are unsure what exactly causes Kawasaki, but have observed correlations between disease clusters and changes in the weather. The proposed hypothesis is that disruptive weather patterns stir up a virus, fungus or toxin in the air, which triggers an aggressive immune response when it lands in the throats of people that are genetically susceptible.

2. Symptoms of Kawasaki disease include, high fever, full-body rash, eye irritation and peeling of fingertips. In about two-thirds of Kawasaki cases, fingertip peeling appears about two weeks after other symptoms end. Peak season for the disease runs from March to early summer. October is not usually a common month for Kawasaki cases to sprout up, Jane Burns, MD, director of the Kawasaki Disease Research Center at UC San Diego, told the Los Angeles Times.

3. However, a big storm hit the San Diego region Oct. 12-13, which Dr. Burns said could play a role in the new cases.

"Clearly, our research is pointing towards an association between the large-scale environment, what's going on with our climate on a large scale, and the occurrence of these clusters," Dr. Burns told the Los Angeles Times. "I don't think it's a coincidence that we had that funky storm, and we saw this cluster of kids."

4. Southern California and San Diego County specifically see a higher rate of Kawasaki cases than the national average. Rady Hospital sees 80 to 100 Kawasaki patients a year. The CDC estimates about 5,000 cases occur every year nationwide.

5. The Kawasaki Center at UCSD has been collecting throat swabs from pediatric patients in an attempt to find its triggers. The center is working with the Imperial College in London to oversee full microbiome analysis of their samples. Dr. Burns, who has made Kawasaki research her life's work, told Los Angeles Times that recent lab advancements can help aid in research.

"We're absolutely going to figure this out before I die," Dr. Burns told the publication.

More articles on clinical leadership and infection control:

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