The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health reported increased scarlet fever activity in March 2017 as compared with that in February.  249 cases of scarlet fever were reported in March as compared with 168 cases in February.

This patient revealed a scarlet fever rash on the volar surface of the forearm due to group A Streptococcus bacteria Image/CDC
This patient revealed a scarlet fever rash on the volar surface of the forearm due to group A Streptococcus bacteria

There were 13 institutional clusters occurring in ten kindergartens and three primary schools, affecting a total of 34 children. No fatal cases were reported in March.

Of note, there has been an unusual increase in the activity of scarlet fever in March, which was higher than that in the same period in previous years. In view of the increase in scarlet fever activity in the recent few weeks, parents should take extra care of their children as it mostly affects children. People should maintain strict personal, hand and environmental hygiene.

Scarlet fever  is a bacterial infection caused by Group A Streptococcus. It mostly affects children. It is transmitted through either respiratory droplets or direct contact with infected respiratory secretions.

It usually starts with a fever and sore throat. Headache, vomiting and abdominal pain may also occur. The tongue may have a distinctive strawberry-like (red and bumpy) appearance. A sandpaper texture-like rash would commonly begin on the first or second day of onset over the upper trunk and neck before spreading to the limbs. The rash is usually more prominent in armpits, elbows and groin areas. It usually subsides after one week and is followed by skin peeling over fingertips, toes and groin areas.

Scarlet fever is sometimes complicated with middle ear infection; throat abscess; chest infection; meningitis; bone or joint problems; damage to the kidneys, liver and heart; and, rarely, toxic shock syndrome. It can be effectively treated by appropriate antibiotics. People suspected to have scarlet fever should consult a doctor promptly.

There are no vaccines available against scarlet fever. Members of the public are advised to take heed of the health advice below:

  • Maintain good personal and environmental hygiene;
  • Always keep hands clean and wash with liquid soap when they are dirtied by mouth and nasal fluids;
  • Cover your nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing and dispose of nasal and mouth discharge properly;
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as eating utensils and towels;
  • Maintain good ventilation; and
  • Sick children should refrain from attending school or child care settings until they fully recover.