HEALTHY LIVING
07/15/2011 12:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Kawasaki Disease Diagnosed Through Facebook: What Is It And How Can Social Media Help?

Facebook apparently saved the life of Deborah Copaken Kogan's son.

A stunning firsthand account on Slate.com, of how Leo, the writer's son, was essentially diagnosed by a friend on Facebook, is making waves across the internet as a testament to how "oversharing" can actually be a true help in the face of life-threatening disease. According to the Slate piece, after posting pictures online a friend quickly came to her with an opinion, which ended up being the correct diagnosis of her son's illness.

Ten minutes later, I received a call on my cell phone from Stephanie, a film actress and former neighbor. "I hope you'll excuse me for butting in," she said, "But you have to get to the hospital. Now."

You can read the entire heart-wrenching tale, from Slate, here.

But the example has many wondering more about Kawasaki disease, especially since the author's friend was able to tell what it was from photographs and experience alone.

While the disease can mimic many common illnesses, like the flu or strep throat, according to the National Institutes of Health, classic signs include a fever of 102 °F or greater, lasting for as long as 5 days or 2 weeks. However, there are other symptoms that can also give away the identity of the condition.

  • Extremely bloodshot or red eyes (without pus or drainage)
  • Bright red, chapped, or cracked lips
  • Red mucous membranes in the mouth
  • Strawberry tongue, white coating on the tongue, or prominent red bumps on the back of the tongue
  • Red palms of the hands and the soles of the feet
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Skin rashes on the middle of the body, NOT blister-like
  • Peeling skin in the genital area, hands, and feet (especially around the nails, palms, and soles)
  • Swollen lymph nodes (frequently only one lymph node is swollen), particularly in the neck area
  • Joint pain and swelling, frequently on both sides of the body

Other symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting, cough, runny nose, and irritability are also common.

It seems more and more that social media is becoming an effective tool in helping to diagnose mysterious conditions. Last month, the New York Times reported that victims of an outbreak of legionellosis were able to self-diagnos even before the Centers For Disease Control had confirmed there was an outbreak. They even created their own Wikipedia page.

As the New York Times points out, while in the past diagnosing these large outbreaks would have been largely conducted with little public interaction, the rapid communication through social media has provided a new forum for people to share their medical information. By taking a look at this data scientists may heavily rely on resources like Twitter to track outbreaks in the future.

On the other hand, it's important to call out the obvious dangers of diagnosing via social networks -- especially as Facebook and Twitter continue to grow.

Just this week the The British Medical Association issued a new guidance advising doctors not to be Facebook friends with their patients.

"Social media presents doctors and medical students with opportunities, as well as challenges," BMA medical ethics committee member Dr. Tony Calland told The Guardian.

Last year, the American Medical Association adopted social media policy guidelines, which encourage doctors to do things like take advantage of privacy settings and maintain the "appropriate" boundaries of the patient-physician relationship on the web.

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