Questions for ‘Hunting the mysterious source of a global illness’


Kawasaki disease first emerged here, in Japan. Although it has since shown up all over the world, Japan still has the most cases.

Danny15/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

To accompany feature “Hunting the mysterious source of a global illness


Before Reading:

1.  Describe some diseases that can spread to become epidemics?

2.  Imagine that you were asked to figure out the cause of a rare and mysterious disease that affects people all over the world. What are the first four questions that you would want answered?           

During Reading

1. What are the key symptoms of Kawasaki disease, and what serious and permanent health effect develops in some of its victims?

2. When and where did the disease first emerge? And where does it occur now?    

3.  What group of people is most vulnerable to Kawasaki disease?   

4.  What pattern did Jane Burns notice that led her to suspect Kawasaki disease might have an environmental trigger?

5.  What did Burns, Rodó, and Japanese scientists discover that led them to suspect that Kawasaki disease cases are linked to wind patterns?  

6.  How are wind currents like conveyor belts? 

7.  Rodó studied the chemistry of the air masses that crossed Japan during the peaks of Kawasaki-disease epidemics. What did he learn about where those air masses came from?   

8.  What possible “trigger” did researchers find at high concentrations in the air over Japan during when Kawasaki-disease epidemics were at their peak?   

9.  What further clue did Peter Lillian, a high school student, help them discover?  

10.  Researchers don’t all agree with the theory that Kawasaki disease is triggered by a toxin. What alternative idea has Anne Rowley proposed?

After Reading

1.  What do you think one of the major challenges would be for disease “detectives” trying to prove that a single trigger is responsible for a disease?

2.  Researchers studying Kawasaki disease include medical doctors, infectious disease researchers, atmospheric scientists and chemists. What special types of knowledge do each of these experts bring to the problem?


1. A smaller share of children tend to develop Kawasaki disease in the United States than in Japan. Using rates mentioned in the story, figure out how much higher, on a percent basis, the incidence of the disease is in Japan (compared to the United States). Show your work.