Hong Kong has declared an outbreak of scarlet fever after it claimed the life of at least one child while infecting thousands of others in the city and elsewhere in China.
According to BBC, there have been more than 400 cases of scarlet fever this year, including the death of a six-year-old last month. Scientists in Hong Kong believe the bacteria may be spreading more quickly than usual due to a genetic mutation.
Actually scarlet fever happens every year in Hong Kong, but this year there have been more cases than usual. Scarlet fever infections have gone up around 5-fold in China, and 3-fold in Macau, about an hour by ferry from Hong Kong.
What is Scarlet Fever
Scarlet fever is a disease caused by infection with the group A Streptococcus bacteria (the same bacteria that causes strep throat).
Scarlet fever was once a very serious childhood disease, but now is easily treatable. It is caused by the streptococcal bacteria, which produce a toxin that leads to the hallmark red rash of the illness.
The main risk factor is infection with the bacteria that causes strep throat. A history of strep throat or scarlet fever in the community, neighborhood, or school may increase the risk of infection.
Scarlet Fever Symptoms
The time between becoming infected and having symptoms is short, generally 1 – 2 days. The illness typically begins with a fever and sore throat.
The rash usually first appears on the neck and chest, then spreads over the body. It is described as “sandpapery” in feel. The texture of the rash is more important than the appearance in confirming the diagnosis. The rash can last for more than a week. As the rash fades, peeling (desquamation) may occur around the fingertips, toes, and groin area.
Other symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Bright red color in the creases of the underarm and groin (Pastia’s lines)
- General discomfort (malaise)
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen, red tongue (strawberry tongue)
How to Prevent Scarlet Fever
Bacteria are spread by direct contact with infected people, or by droplets exhaled by an infected person. Avoid contact with infected people. Source: NIH
Be very careful if you are to travel to Hong Kong with your kids.