China warns of scarlet fever epidemic in south of the country

by Reuters
Tuesday, 21 June 2011 04:20 GMT

By Tan Ee Lyn

HONG KONG, June 21 (Reuters) - A scarlet fever epidemic has broken out in parts of southern China, killing a child in Hong Kong and making hundreds sick and health authorities said on Tuesday the outbreak may get more serious in weeks ahead.

"Mainland China and Macau are also suffering from unusually high numbers of scarlet fever cases and we believe it may be a regional phenomenon," a spokeswoman for the Health Department in Hong Kong said.

"The outbreak hasn&${esc.hash}39;t shown signs of slowing down and we may continue to see more cases this summer."

Scarlet fever is caused by group A streptococcus bacteria and it mostly affects children below the age of 10. It is spread through contact with contaminated respiratory secretions.

Patients develop fever, a sore throat and break out in a red rash on their trunk, neck and limbs. It can be treated with antibiotics but complications can result in shock, heart and kidney illnesses.

Hong Kong has had more than 419 cases of scarlet fever this year, by far the highest number in years.

Cases in Hong Kong were up 4.5 fold compared with the same period last year. A seven-year-old girl died in late May and two boys, age 6 and 11, developed complications but they are now in stable condition.

Cases in China and Macau were up 2.6 and 4.7 fold respectively, according to Hong Kong&${esc.hash}39;s Centre for Health Protection (CHP).

Clusters of cases were found in kindergartens, primary schools and childcare centres in Hong Kong.

Scientists in Hong Kong who isolated the scarlet fever bacteria in a six-year-old boy found a slight change in its genetic structure which may have enhanced its ability to spread, the Health Department said in a news release.

Scientists at the University of Hong Kong will analyse bacteria samples from other patients to see if they can shed more light on the epidemic, the department said.

Half of group A streptococcus bacteria in Hong Kong are resistant to the antibiotics erythromycin and clindamycin, but they are all susceptible to penicillin, according to the CHP. (Editing by Robert Birsel)

(Created by Ee-lyn Tan)

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