As you may have read in the popular media, John Travolta’s son, Jett, died tragically earlier this month. The cause of death was reported as complications resulting from seizures apparently brought on by his childhood affliction from Kawasaki syndrome, an illness that leads to inflamed blood vessels. This month, searches on terms related to Kawasaki syndrome have increased quite a bit in DeepDyve. And similarly, according to Google Trends, the popularity of that term spiked by near 10X and even surpassed “Obama” and “Paris Hilton” on the days following the story.
There has been some intrigue concerning the details of his death. According to an article in WebMD, there is no association between Kawasaki disease and seizures. This belief has made its way into news articles and the blog world such that there are questions as to whether Travolta’s son actually
was autistic, exhibiting a mental condition which is not recognized by his church of Scientology and which commonly leads to seizures.
We decided to do a quick look into this question. Using DeepDyve, we searched on the phrase “kawasaki syndrome seizures”, we immediately found a “Seizure characteristics in Kawasaki disease” (Shimakawa S, Yamada K, Hara K, Tanabe T, Tamai H; No To Hattatsu 2008 Jul; 40(4):289-94). The report starts with “It is well known that convulsions may occur in clinical course of Kawasaki disease. However, the features of such seizures remain unclear,” then goes on to present a possible cause, namely “proinflammatory cytokines”.
In The Journal of Child Neurology, we found “Other neurologic associations and complications of Kawasaki disease have been described and include extreme irritability, aseptic meningitis, seizures and meningoencephalitis, facial nerve palsy, subdural collection, ataxia, stroke, and sensorineural hearing loss.”1
We are not maintaining that Jett Travolta’s death was caused by Kawasaki; nor are we refuting the allegations made in these articles. Our point is merely that there is more science data to this story which challenges the research claims being made by most of the media reports. Given the terrible tragedy and deeply personal innuendo written in so many of the articles, shouldn’t we demand a higher standard of investigation?
1 Entesar Husain and Enamul Hoque; J Child Neurol; “Meningoencephalitis as a Presentation of Kawasaki Disease”; 2006; 21; 1080; DOI: 10.1177/7010.2006.00232