An ill wind blows: Kawasaki disease may be from fungus spread via air currents

An extraordinary claim – that a disease is caused by fungal spores that travel on air currents far from their source.

Mysterious disease rides on the winds across the Pacific Ocean | Ars Technica.

Climatologists don’t often end up working on a cardiovascular disease that affects children. But that is exactly what Xavier Rodó from the Catalan Institute of Climate Sciences has been doing: trying to find what causes the mysterious Kawasaki disease and understand how it spreads at unusual pace within Japan and the US. The answer, he thinks, may lie in a fungus that can cross the Pacific Ocean on the prevailing winds.

The Japanese pediatrician Tomisaku Kawasaki first described the eponymous disease in 1967. It affects children under the age of 5. Those suffering from it often develop swollen hands and feet because of inflamed arteries. If coronary arteries get inflamed, it affects the functioning of the heart. Each year, Japan registers about 12,000 cases and the US registers about 4,000. But for the past 50 years, the causative agent has remained a mystery.

The growing number of cases, however, have left clues. In 2011, Rodó found that the number of children affected by Kawasaki disease is linked to large-scale wind currents. This is was true across Japan, Hawaii, and California.

The wind mechanism had already been proposed. If true, the Kawasaki disease agent will be the first viable human disease pathogen proved to cross such a distance naturally, not by carriers on planes or ships.

The new study, Tropospheric winds from northeastern China carry the etiologic agent of Kawasaki disease from its source to Japan, provides support that the agent may be Candida species that has been found in tropospheric aerosols (at 54% of all fungal strains).

It’s important to remember that the mechanism of wind or fungus has not been confirmed. The study shows correlation, not yet causation. Animal models have replicated a condition similar to KD via Candida albicans derived substances.

  1 comment for “An ill wind blows: Kawasaki disease may be from fungus spread via air currents

  1. Blargh
    May 27, 2014 at 8:52 AM

    Color me skeptical. Fungi are enthusiastic little contaminants, and the ubiquity of them makes it easy to find false correlations. In addition, any correlations made with weather patterns have a gazillion confounding factors.

    But it’s an interesting idea at least, and now it’s out there for others to try to replicate and verify.

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