DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Very recently, my 7-year-old granddaughter was diagnosed with and treated for Kawasaki disease. My son (her dad) is very vague in his description of the illness. I have learned that she was a very sick little girl. I’d never heard of this. What is it? What causes it? Are there any long-term aftereffects? Can it return? – P.P.

ANSWER: Kawasaki disease doesn’t register with most people because it’s a relatively newly described illness. There are at least 4,000 cases of it every year in the United States.

It’s a children’s illness and has some fairly dramatic signs. Fever is always part of the picture, and the temperature can rise to as high as 104 Fahrenheit. The eyes are irritated and red. The mouth and throat are also red, and the tongue looks like a strawberry.

The child breaks out in a rash that defies description because it takes many different forms. Almost always, however, the palms and soles turn red. The lymph nodes in the neck enlarge.

The cause has not been definitely identified, but it might be a viral infection; the suspect virus goes by the name of coronavirus.

The greatest danger of untreated Kawasaki lies in what can happen to heart arteries. About 20 percent of untreated children develop bulges (aneurysms) of those arteries.

The bulges are weak spots that can cause serious trouble later in life. With treatment, however, bulge formation falls to a very, very small percentage. I am sure your granddaughter had echocardiograms taken. They are soundwave pictures of the heart, and they show any bulges.

Recovery for treated children who don’t have artery bulges is complete.

Less than 3 percent of children have another episode. Looked at from a different point of view, 97 percent are home free.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This might seem to some like a frivolous question, but it is important to me. I am nearing a very healthy 70. Forty years ago, while pregnant, I raised my first baby bird. My nurturing hormones were in full gear. I raised it, weaned it and released it.

Over the years, I have raised many, many birds. My family has forbidden me to take in any more baby birds because of avian flu. My heart is breaking. Now that I am finally retired, I could enjoy it even more than I did when I was young.

I promised my family I would abide by your advice. Tell me if there is any real danger in handling nestlings. – L.W.

ANSWER: Your family’s concern is admirable, but they can relax. Bird flu has not arrived in North America. They and you don’t have a worry. You can continue your avian rescue mission.

We will all know if and when bird flu hits these shores. Banner headlines in all papers will announce it

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: How many kinds of doctors are there? To add to the confusion, there seem to be specialty hospitals too. – M.P.

ANSWER: The American Board of Medical Specialties lists 24 different specialties. I won’t give you the list unless you insist. Actually, there are close to 50 different medical fields. Not on the list are some specialties you might not be aware of – bariatric physicians, for example, treat obesity both with and without surgery. Dentists and all dental specialists, such as endodontists, add to the list of doctors with distinctive expertise. Podiatrists have their unique field of treatment. So do chiropractors.

There are indeed specialty hospitals and clinics. Some are devoted solely to problems with bones and joints; others, to patients with diabetes.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Do our bodies age differently from our chronological age? – M.P.

ANSWER: You bet. I have met 80-year-olds with the bodies of 20-year-olds, and I have met 20-year-olds with the bodies of 80-year-olds. Aging depends on genes, frame of mind, health and what a person has done to stay vigorous.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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