Difficulty of Keeping Scarlet Fever in Check

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The bacterial infection identified as scarlet fever has been spreading in Great Britain, and also in various parts of East Asia. A recent study suggests that this easily-treatable infection may not be as relatively dormant as previously assumed, since it's showing signs of antibiotic resistance.

Scarlet fever is caused by group A Streptococcus bacterium, and it mostly affects children between the ages of 5 and 12. Only a small percentage of people who have strep throat, caused by group A streptococcus, will develop scarlet fever. This bacterial infection presents with tiny red bumps, first appearing on the chest and abdomen, then spreading over the body, and lasts approximately two to five days. The rash caused by scarlet fever has an appearance similar to sunburn, and to the touch it feels like a rough piece of sandpaper.

Nouri L. Ben Zakour, Ph.D., of Australian Infectious Diseases Research Center, from the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia and colleagues, collected data from 25 patients with scarlet fever and nine patients with strep infection. The samples were retrieved from China, and Hong Kong. An antibiotic, such as penicillin, could treat these cases, however the researchers found indications of the bacteria developing resistance to other antibiotics, such as tetracyclines, erythromycin and clindamycin.

With penicillin as the preferred treatment for scarlet fever, this presents a severe problem for those allergic to this antibiotic. Adding complexity to the situation is the possibility of the bacterial strain becoming resistant to other antibiotics. This leaves doctors with few treatment options.

There are at least two million people in the U.S. who developed bacterial infections that were resistant to antibiotic treatments that have resulted in approximately 23,000 deaths, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics.