Ask the KD Experts: Kawasaki Disease an Autoimmune Disease?


Is Kawasaki disease an autoimmune disease?


The term “autoimmune” disease is used to describe diseases in which the primary immune response is to “self.” That means that the body’s immune response gets confused and starts attacking itself. Once that program is set in motion, it is difficult to undo, and this group of diseases tends to be chronic with remissions and relapses but is life-long. Therapies are directed toward knocking down the host immune response to stop the destruction of tissues. Examples of autoimmune diseases include juvenile idiopathic arthritis and lupus.

KD, on the other hand, behaves more like a self-limited infection in which the immune response is directed toward a foreign invader, not the host itself. KD is not a chronic disease. The inflammation and host immune response is intense but short-lived. Recovery from the acute illness is complete, and symptoms and signs resolve completely. Thus the term “autoimmune” is not appropriate for KD. In fact, it is misleading and should not be used.

Unfortunately, many physicians are inadequately educated about KD and mistakenly refer to KD as autoimmune, which only serves to perpetuate the confusion.


Jane C. Burns, M.D.
Professor and Director, Kawasaki Disease Research Center
Dept. of Pediatrics MC 0641
UCSD School of Medicine
9500 Gilman Dr.
La Jolla, CA 92093-0641