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Scarlet Fever Coming Back In Europe And East Asia

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Scarlet fever, the disease considered a killer in the 19th century, is rearing its head again in England and East Asia, according to researchers, and authorities are hard-pressed to find a reason for it.

Theresa Lamagni of Public Health England, said, “Whilst current rates (in England) are nowhere near those seen in the early 1900s, the magnitude of the recent upsurge is greater than any documented in the last century.” Public Health England funded the research, CNN reports. Lamagni added,

Whilst notifications so far for 2017 suggest a slight decrease in numbers, we continue to monitor the situation carefully…and research continues to further investigate the rise.

The condition is identified by a bright red rash that feels like sandpaper. It is a highly contagious disease caused by group A Streptococcus pyogenes, which also causes strep throat.

Scarlet fever used to be a common source of childhood mortality, but has declined in the past two centuries. Any rise in the number of cases usually follows a “natural cyclical pattern” every four to six years.

Since 2009, however, the number of scarlet fever cases in some East Asian countries such as Vietnam, South Korea, Hong Kong and mainland China, have increased.

In 2013, an outbreak in England saw the cases jump from 4,700 to 15,637 in 2014. Infections have kept rising since, reaching 20,000 in 2016.

Why scarlet fever is making a sudden resurgence remains a mystery, the researchers said. Investigators have been looking at all angles, including the possibility that there has been a change in the human immune system, environmental causes, and so on.

Lamagni said, “Whilst there is no clear connection between the situation in the UK and East Asia, a link cannot be excluded without better understanding of the drivers behind these changes. The hunt for further explanations for the rise in scarlet fever goes on.”

Parents should check for symptoms and consult a physician immediately for diagnosis and treatment should any signs of scarlet fever present, Lamagni added. “Guidance on management of outbreaks in schools and nurseries has just been updated, and research continues to further investigate the rise.”

The study was published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

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