5 Facts About Kawasaki Disease

Ridofranz, iStock via Getty Images
Ridofranz, iStock via Getty Images

While most pediatric COVID-19 cases are mild, the disease has been tied to a serious new syndrome in kids. In recent weeks, dozens of children who tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies have exhibited symptoms like rash, fever, diarrhea, and swollen hands and feet—all signs similar to a rare condition called Kawasaki disease. Like Kawasaki disease, the mystery illness, officially known as pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome (PIMS), can lead to severe heart issues. In New York, three children have died from it.

Medical experts still aren’t sure how this condition develops, or how it’s related to COVID-19. Here are five things we do know about Kawasaki disease, the syndrome it resembles.

1. Symptoms of Kawasaki disease appear in phases.

When patients first contract Kawasaki disease, the most serious symptom is a high fever that lasts five days or more. Other diagnostic signs that appear in this first stage include chapped lips, bloodshot eyes, sore throat, swollen hands and feet, and a rash covering the back, limbs, belly, and groin. These symptoms are the result of inflammation in the arteries, veins, capillaries, and lymph nodes.

After experiencing a fever for about two weeks, patients may enter the second stage of the disease. This phase is characterized by diarrhea, vomiting, joint pain, and temporary hearing loss. Peeling skin on the hands and feet is another symptom, with dead skin sometimes coming off the extremities in layers.

The third phase is known as the convalescent phase, and it comes about four weeks after the fever first develops. During this period, which can last a couple of weeks, patients gradually recover and their symptoms improve.

2. Kawasaki disease can have deadly complications.

Most children who get Kawasaki disease fully recover, and recovery rates are even higher when the disease is caught early. But in some cases, the illness has dangerous effects on the cardiovascular system. The inflammation that characterizes the disease can weaken artery walls, resulting in rare cases of heart disease and heart attacks in children. Heart problems afflict about a quarter of Kawasaki disease patients who didn’t receive early treatment for the condition. Of these untreated cases, roughly 2 to 3 percent are fatal.

3. Kawasaki disease is uncommon.

Kawasaki disease is rare, effecting roughly 4200 children in the U.S. annually. The syndrome is almost exclusive to kids, with most cases occurring in patients younger than 5 years old. It’s 1.5 times more common in boys, so sex may factor into who gets it. Ethnicity is another possible component: Kawasaki disease rates are 10 to 20 times higher in East Asian countries like Korea and Japan than in the U.S.

4. Kawasaki disease is often treated with an over-the-counter drug.

One of the primary treatments for Kawasaki disease is aspirin. The anti-inflammatory drug can help relieve pain, reduce fever, and prevent blood clots in kids with the condition. Aspirin shouldn’t be taken by children for other types of fever or pain, though, due to the risk of a serious condition called Reye's syndrome. Kawasaki disease is the rare instance when aspirin is given to kids, and even in these cases, it should only be taken under the supervision of a doctor.

The other main treatment for the disease is intravenous immunoglobulin, or IVIG. Immunoglobulin is a solution of antibodies from healthy donors that helps boost the patient's immune system to fight disease. It’s administered through the patient’s vein, and if given early enough, it can reduce symptoms within 36 hours.

5. COVID-19 may trigger Kawasaki disease, but it's too soon to tell.

Doctors are unclear on what causes Kawasaki disease. One theory is that antigens found in some viruses can trigger a hyper-inflammatory response in children who are genetically susceptible. This is similar to what's being observed in the new pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome, which is possibly related to COVID-19. "We think patients were exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, they may or may not have had some symptoms, and later on there was a delayed reaction," Michael Portman, pediatric cardiologist and director of the Kawasaki Disease Clinic at Seattle Children’s, says of the recent PIMS cases. "There was a hyper-inflammatory response launched by the body against the viral antigen, so that fits with the main hypothesis for Kawasaki disease."

More research still needs to be done to understand the relationship between PIMS and COVID-19. "It's a little bit early to make a direct link, but it seems plausible that the new coronavirus does trigger an immune response that could result in Kawasaki disease, or a different spectrum of the disease, or even a separate disease that we're calling PIMS," Portman tells Mental Floss.

It's also too early to say definitively that PIMS and Kawasaki disease are the same thing, but to experts who have studied the latter, the new syndrome looks very familiar. "It is very difficult to separate the two," Portman says. "They are very, very similar, and it's going to take quite a bit of research to determine if they're different."

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.