Heightened vigilance warranted amid marked increase in scarlet fever activity

     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health today (November 13) appealed to parents, schools/institutions and healthcare professionals for heightened vigilance against scarlet fever (SF) as its activity has been increasing in the past few weeks.

     According to the CHP's surveillance data, the weekly number of SF cases increased from 37 in the week of October 22 to 61 and 66 in the two subsequent weeks. Regarding SF outbreaks in schools/institutions, as of November 11, three affecting 10 pupils/children were recorded in November.

     "While SF has occurred throughout the year locally, a seasonal pattern for SF in Hong Kong with higher activity was observed from May to June and from November to March in the past few years. Based on the past epidemiological pattern, we expect that the SF activity will remain at a higher level in the coming few months. Parents have to take extra care of their children in maintaining strict personal, hand and environmental hygiene," a spokesman for the CHP said.

     A total of 1 682 SF cases were reported to the CHP in the first 10 months of 2017, representing a marked increase from the figures for the same period in 2016 (1 062 cases) and 2015 (948 cases). The epidemiological and clinical features of the cases recorded in 2017 were largely similar to those in previous years.

     Among the 1 682 SF cases reported this year, they comprise 977 males and 705 females aged from 2 months to 43 years (median: 5 years), nearly all of which (1 607, 95.5 per cent) were under 10 years. Most presented with mild illnesses. Among them, 611 cases (36.3 per cent) required hospitalisation. While one severe case reported in March required admission to an intensive care unit, no deaths have been recorded so far.

     "We will issue letters to doctors, hospitals and schools to alert them to the latest situation. Schools should promptly make a report to the CHP in case of an increase in respiratory illnesses or absentees for immediate epidemiological investigations and outbreak control," the spokesman said.

     SF 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.

     SF 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. SF can be effectively treated by appropriate antibiotics. People suspected to have SF should consult a doctor promptly.

     There are no vaccines available against SF. 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 discharges;
  • Cover your nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing and dispose of nasal and mouth discharges properly;
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as eating utensils and towels;
  • Maintain good ventilation; and
  • Children suffering from SF should refrain from attending school or child care settings until the fever has subsided and they have been treated with antibiotics for at least 24 hours.

     The public may visit the CHP's SF page for more information.

Ends/Monday, November 13, 2017
Issued at HKT 17:45