Kawasaki disease strikes young children, mostly boys. It starts with a high fever and can be fatal if not treated. One Seattle Children's researcher believes a common food could be triggering this mysterious disease in some patients.
One year ago, young Aiden a year had a high fever for days, a red rash and swelling - hallmarks of Kawasaki disease. He had to be hospitalized.
“Your whole life kind of goes upside down,” said Aiden’s mom, Amy.
Amy had good reason to worry. Kawasaki disease causes inflammation to the blood vessels and can damage the heart.
“Ultimately you could have a six-month-old say that has the same sort of coronary artery disease that a 40 or 50-year-old has who's been smoking all his life and then has blockage of those arteries,” said Dr. Michael Portman with Seattle Children’s.
No one knows what causes Kawasaki disease, but Portman began to notice a pattern.
“It looked like that there was a relationship between how much soy a population ate and the rate of Kawasaki disease,” said Portman.
So far it's only a theory and needs much more research, but in Aiden's case it seems to fit.
“I was kind of surprised. He was diagnosed with a dairy allergy when he was about two, I think, so he did have early exposure to soy for quite awhile,” said Amy. “I think it made me feel better bringing some sense to it, I guess.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics has already recommended avoiding soy formula in most cases because it contains estrogen-like compounds. Portman says this is just another reason to be cautious.
"Now we have to rethink how much soy we want to introduce in the diet and certainly I think you have to be very cautious in young children on the type of ingredients you're putting in their diet,” said Portman.
Aiden seems to be back to his old self, and annoying twin sister Addison as only a brother can do.
“Watching him now compared to last year, he just wasn't there. He was sunken in, lost a lot of weight, but seeing him back now it's enjoyable to see,” said Aiden’s dad.
What if you suspect your baby seems to be allergic to regular formula – what then? Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson says that question comes up a lot in her practice.
“So if you're concerned that your baby is allergic of having a reaction from cow's milk formula, talk with your clinician about the possibility potentially of going to a hyper-allergenic formula before going to soy formula,” advises Swanson.
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes there are only a few medical reasons which would warrant the use of soy formula. All major health organizations do recommend breastfeeding as the best choice for babies under six months of age.