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Viral involvement in Kawasaki syndrome?

Viral involvement in Kawasaki syndrome?

Researchers from several Harvard-affiliated institutions have found signs of viral involvement in Kawasaki syndrome. The cause of the illness, which can result in heart problems in young children, has remained elusive (NS: 7/6/85, p. 10).

Kawasaki syndrome includes among its symptoms fever and rash. About 15 to 20 percent of children with it develop weakened walls in their coronary arteries. The syndrome is more common in Japan, where it was discovered, than in the United States, which has several hundred cases a year.

Incidence of the disease shows a pattern consistent with an infectious agent-- cases tend to occur every few years and are most common in winter and spring. Researchers have focused their attention on a retrovirus, a type of virus that can promote the type of white blood cell growth seen in the syndrome.

The Harvard group detected reverse transcriptase, an enzyme peculiar to retroviruses, in 5 of 14 children with Kawasaki syndrome. The enzyme could not be found in cells from healthy children or children with other fever-related illnesses.

The researchers were able to photograph viral particles in white blood cells through electron microscopy, and they were also able to transfer infection from one cell to another. Their work is described in the Oct. 30 NATURE.

The NATURE report confirms and extends a study in the Sept. 6 LANCET by Stanford T. Shulman and Anne H. Rowley of Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. They detected reverse transcriptase in 8 of 18 children with Kawasaki syndrome.

But while both studies indicate the virus is present in diseased children, neither proves it is the cause. "The exact role remains to be elucidated,' says Donald Y. M. Leung of Harvard Medical School. Says Rowley, "I'd put it in the realm of an exciting possibility.'
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Author:Silberner, Joanne
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 8, 1986
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