The Epidemiology and Pathogenesis of Kawasaki Disease

Front Pediatr. 2018 Dec 11;6:374. doi: 10.3389/fped.2018.00374. eCollection 2018.


Epidemiologic and clinical features of Kawasaki Disease (KD) strongly support an infectious etiology. KD is worldwide, most prominently in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, reflecting increased genetic susceptibility among Asian populations. In Hawaii, KD rates are 20-fold higher in Japanese ethnics than in Caucasians, intermediate in other ethnicities. The age distribution of KD, highest in children < 2 yo, lower in those < 6 months, is compatible with infection by a ubiquitous agent resulting in increasing immunity with age and with transplacental immunity, as with some classic viruses. The primarily winter-spring KD seasonality and well-documented Japanese epidemics with wave-like spread also support an infectious trigger. We hypothesize KD pathogenesis involves an RNA virus that usually causes asymptomatic infection but KD in a subset of genetically predisposed children. CD8 T cells, oligoclonal IgA, and upregulation of cytotoxic T cell and interferon pathway genes in the coronaries in fatal KD also support a viral etiology. Cytoplasmic inclusion bodies in ciliated bronchial epithelium identified by monoclonal antibodies made from oligoclonal IgA heavy chains also supports a viral etiology. Recent availability of "second generation" antibodies from KD peripheral blood plasmablasts may identify a specific viral antigen. Thus, we propose an unidentified ("new") RNA virus infects bronchial epithelium usually causing asymptomatic infection but KD in a subset of genetically predisposed children. The agent persists in inclusion bodies, with intermittent respiratory shedding, entering the bloodstream via macrophages targeting coronaries. Antigen-specific IgA plasma cells and CD8 T cells respond but coronaries can be damaged. IVIG may include antibody against the agent. Post infection, 97-99% of KD patients are immune to the agent, protected against recurrence. The agent can spread either from those with asymptomatic primary infection in winter-spring or from a previously infected contact who intermittently sheds the agent.

Keywords: coronary; etiology; kawasaki; pathogenesis; pediatric.

Publication types

  • Review