The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) is urging parents and schools to exercise heightened vigilance against scarlet fever, saying its incidence has sharply increased and may remain at a high level in the coming few months.
CHP data shows 77 cases of scarlet fever in the week to Dec. 9 compared with 48 two weeks ago, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
A total of 1,947 cases were reported in the first 11 months of the year, a significant increase from the same period in the previous two years.
Parents have to take extra care of their children in maintaining strict personal and environmental hygiene, a spokesman for the CHP said on Dec. 4.
Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection which is caused by Group A Streptococcus, and it mostly afflicts children. It is transmitted through respiratory droplets or direct contact with infected respiratory secretions, according to CHP.
The disease, against which there are currently no vaccines available, usually starts with a fever and sore throat, possibly followed by headache, vomiting and abdominal pain. One of its features is the patient’s tongue may have a distinctive strawberry-like (red and bumpy) appearance.
The Hong Kong Medical Association (HKMA) said the surge in the number of cases might have something to do with genetic mutation of the related bacteria, which has become a global trend.
However, the CHP said there has been no evidence that Group A Streptococcus has had genetic mutation.
HKMA vice president Dr. Alvin Chan Yee-shing, said the fatality rate has not increased but added the number of the weekly cases may rise above 100 by the end of the month.
Calling the actual situation more serious than CHP data shows, Chan said many parents might fail to detect that their children have caught the disease and don’t get them examined by a doctor. This coud lead to infected patients passing the disease to others.
HKMA council member Dr. Tong Kai-sing called on parents to have their children examined by doctors immediately if they show any symptoms, adding that delayed treatment may have serious consequences. The bacteria may end up causing heart or kidney-related problems.
Patients can see their condition worsen if they also contract chickenpox or influenza at the same time. The HKMA encouraged parents to get get chickenpox vaccination for their children as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, chair of infectious diseases of the department of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, said he is studying if Group A Streptococcus has mutated. He said penicillin, the most popular medication for scarlet fever, is effective as no drug resistance has been found.
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