Hong Kong outbreak marks lethal comeback of scarlet fever
Hong Kong residents are dealing with a lethal outbreak of drug-resistant scarlet fever that already killed a 7-year-old girl and a 5-year old boy.
The two children died from a scarlet fever complication called toxic shock syndrome. They were the first fatalities from the said disease in a decade in Hong Kong.
Health officials in the Chinese territory say that more than 500 cases have been reported so far this year. The particular strain that is causing the current Hong Kong outbreak is said to be 60 percent resistant to at least two drugs commonly used to treat the disease.
Scarlet fever is caused by the A. streptococcus bacteria and its symptoms include sore throat, fever, rough-textured rash and a characteristic bright red "strawberry" tongue.
Penicillin and other antibiotics in recent decades have almost made diseases such as scarlet fever and tuberculosis non-existent in many rich countries and cities like Hong Kong but sporadic outbreaks still happen. Poor countries are still grappling with these diseases even as medications exist to treat them.
The cases and Hong Kong were caused by two different but similarly antibiotic-resistant strains of scarlet fever. But health experts worry that at least one of the strains have since mutated again which allowed it to spread even faster.
The overuse or inappropriate use of antibiotics have allowed germs to evolve and render the drugs useless against newer strains. As of now, penicillin along with other drugs still work against scarlet fever, but doctors fear that it is just a matter of time before the new strains of scarlet fever in Hong Kong and elsewhere will no longer respond to existing treatment unless a vaccine is made.