Baylee Littrell, son of Brian Littrell, a member of the pop music group the Backstreet Boys, was finally diagnosed last week with Kawasaki syndrome, a collection of symptoms that stem from swollen blood vessels.
"He's never been sick," said Baylee's mother, Leighanne Littrell. When he first began to show symptoms, "it kind of blew us away and from then on things escalated."
In an announcement on Brian Littrell's Web site, the family detailed how Baylee, 6, was tested for several different infections including strep throat and hand, foot and mouth disease before being diagnosed with atypical Kawasaki disease.
Kawasaki disease or Kawasaki syndrome (KS) is characterized by a high fever that lasts about five days. Fever is usually accompanied by red eyes, a rash, red lips and tongue and swollen hands, feet and lymph nodes. If only some of these symptoms are present along with a high fever, the KS is called atypical.
"They look like they've been up all night," said Dr. Robert Frenck, a professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. The lips can look coated with red lipstick. "Kids get very fussy and irritable. ... They're just not themselves."
Although KS causes inflammation in blood vessels throughout the body, the most serious cases occur when blood vessels surrounding the heart become inflamed. Unless they are caught early -- within 10 days after the onset of symptoms -- the inflammations can cause a variety of heart complications including aneurysms, abnormal heart rhythms and heart attacks.
Standard treatments for KS include high doses of aspirin to reduce fever and overall swelling and an immunoglobulin to reduce arterial inflammation and prevent heart complications.
But the problem with a syndrome such as KS is that the beginning stages can look like almost any viral or bacterial infection.
"People do call it the great mimicker," said Dr. J. R. Bockoven, the director of outreach and education for the Heart Center at Akron Children's Hospital. The initial fever and redness symptoms can look like almost any viral or bacterial infection, from the common cold to measles.
But Baylee was "atypical in everything," Leighanne Littrell said. His symptoms were varied and did not occur in the order associated with KS.
Leighanne Littrell said she believes Baylee's KS began at the end of October when he got a rash on his legs that lasted for almost three weeks. Since then, he had been under the weather with a stuffy nose and an occasional sore throat, but nothing serious enough to see a doctor about.
"I think his body was fighting off this disease," she said.
Baylee's acute symptoms began, not with a high-grade fever, but with swollen lymph nodes that felt like pecan nuts under the skin.
Baylee was first diagnosed with strep throat, but then he developed a fever and went back to the doctors with ulcers in his throat. After several different diagnoses, Baylee developed a full body rash that his mother said looked almost like a chemical burn.
Still, his lab tests and blood work showed no signs of a serious disease. Finally, on the day Baylee was supposed to be released from the hospital, Leighanne Littrell made a request of her own on a hunch that something was still amiss.
"I said, 'before we go, I would love an echocardiogram,'" Leighanne Littrell said.