Palestinian father Alaa al-batat, who recovered from COVID-19, displays a picture of him holding his new-born baby Tayem at the hospital, in al-Dahriya village south of Hebron in the West Bank on May 17, 2020. (AFP / Hazem Bader)

Misinformation circulates about babies contracting Kawasaki disease during the coronavirus pandemic

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Two photos have been shared thousands of times in multiple Facebook posts which claim that Kawasaki disease is spreading among babies during the coronavirus pandemic. The claim is misleading; one of the photos has previously circulated in reports about a skin blister caused by a different disease; health authorities are still investigating cases of a Kawasaki-like condition observed in some children with COVID-19, and maintain that children remain “minimally affected” by the virus overall.

The photos were shared more than 1,300 times after being published on Facebook here on May 18, 2020. 

A screenshot of the misleading post taken on May 19, 2020

The post’s Tagalog-language caption states: “My god! Corona virus is not yet over. Here goes another! / MOMMIES, MOMS, MOTHERS REMINDER !!! / KAWASAKI DISEASE IS SPREADING NOW IN BABIES !!! REMINDER TO MOMS, DO NOT LET BABIES PUT TOYS IN THEIR MOUTHS ,AND MAINTAIN WASHING THE GENITAL AREA AFTER CHANGING DIAPER,HANDS AND MOUTH..WHEN YOU OBSERVE FEVER AND RED RASHES IN THE CHILD'S BODY IMMEDIATELY TAKE THE CHILD TO THE DOCTOR. / CTTO.”

Kawasaki disease is an illness that is most common in children under five. It can cause fever, rash and the swelling of the hands and feet, among other symptoms, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A similar claim about the disease spreading was also published here, here and here on Facebook.

However, the claim is misleading.

A reverse image search on TinEye found one of the photos published on the health advice platform WedMD’s HFMD webpage here.

It was published alongside a description which states that it shows a skin blister caused by Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD). 

Below is a screenshot comparison showing the photo in the misleading posts (L) and the photo on WebMD’s HFMD webpage (R):

Screenshot comparison

The second photo does show a skin rash caused by Kawasaki disease and was taken from WebMD’s webpage on the condition here

In a Facebook message to AFP on May 19, 2020, Dr. Joey Hernandez, a member of the Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians, confirmed that HFMD and Kawasaki “are two distinct diseases”. He added, however, that patients of both diseases can exhibit similar rashes and eye symptoms.

On May 15, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that health experts are investigating clusters of children in Europe and North America who exhibited a Kawasaki-like syndrome that “may be related to COVID-19”. 

“It is not yet clear the full spectrum of disease, and whether the geographical distribution in Europe and North America reflects a true pattern, or if the condition has simply not been recognized elsewhere,” the WHO statement adds. 

A report in The Lancet, a leading peer-reviewed medical journal, on the Kawasaki-like disease also says that research on the syndrome is ongoing and that it remains unclear if SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a “triggering agent”.

“It is crucial to reiterate—for parents and health-care workers alike—that children remain minimally affected by SARS-CoV-2 infection overall,” the report notes.