Scarlet fever may sound like a disease from the history books, but the old scourge, which was once a common cause of death in young children, is making a dangerous comeback in certain parts of the globe.
After decades of decline, England has experienced an unprecedented rise in the infectious illness since 2014.
A new study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, found cases there have reached a 50-year high, with 620 outbreaks totaling over 19,000 cases of scarlet fever reported in England in 2016.
Several countries in East Asia have also reported a surge in cases, including Vietnam, China, South Korea, in the past five years.
“Whilst current rates are nowhere near those seen in the early 1900s, the magnitude of the recent upsurge is greater than any documented in the last century,” Dr. Theresa Lamagni, Head of Streptococcal Surveillance at Public Health England, who led the study, said in a statement.
Symptoms of scarlet fever include a sore throat, headache and fever accompanied by a characteristic pink-red rash that feels like sandpaper. The National Institutes of Health says another telltale sign is that patients develop a dark red tongue — sometimes known as “strawberry tongue.”
Scarlet fever is caused by an infection with the bacteria known as strep — Streptococcus pyogenes or group A Streptococcus — found on the skin and throat. It’s contagious and spreads through close contact with people carrying the bug or with objects and surfaces contaminated with the bacteria.
“School children are really most likely to get it because they’re in such close contact with each other all the time,” Debra Spicehandler, M.D., co-chief of infectious diseases at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York, told CBS News. “A mother taking care of her sick child who has it is also more prone to getting it herself.”
The majority of reported cases in England — about 87 percent — were in children under the age of 10.
Unlike outbreaks from before the days of modern medicine, when children frequently died of scarlet fever or suffered lifelong disabilities, the illness today typically isn’t very serious and can be treated with antibiotics.
However, if left untreated, scarlet fever can lead to serious complications including rheumatic fever (an inflammatory disease that can affect the heart, joints, skin, and brain),, ear infections, skin infections, pneumonia, and .
Early treatment is key, so experts recommend parents be…