Saturday, June 25, 2011

Scarlet Fever Outbreak of Antibiotic-Resistant Strain

I have been reading about a scarlet fever outbreak in southern China. Apparently there have been 21,000 reported cases, though figures vary slightly. I like to try to trace this kind of information back to sources that I trust, but I'm having trouble find the original reference for CDC warning reported by the Taipei Times.

Not as common as it once was, scarlet fever – scarlatina – is a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus or "group A strep." This illness affects a small percentage of people who have strep throat or, less commonly, streptococcal (type of bacterial) skin infections. Scarlet fever is treatable with antibiotics and usually is a mild illness, but it needs to be treated to prevent rare but serious complications. 

Although anyone can get scarlet fever, it usually affects children between 5 and 18 years of age. The classic symptom of the disease is not the fever, but a certain type of red rash that feels rough, like sandpaper. (From the CDC feature on Scarlet Fever.)

At least scarlet fever is highly treatable. The scary thing about this outbreak is that this strain of group A strep is unusually resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it. According to reports, this strain is 60 percent resistant compared with 10-30 percent resistance in previous strains. Hopefully these early reports mean that an effective response is already underway so that this outbreak will be only a small blip on the world disease map. That said, even small occurrences can devastate.

The best way to prevent infection? Wash your hands!

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