A five-year-old boy died in Hong Kong on Tuesday, becoming the second child in two months to die of scarlet fever in the Chinese metropolis.
A seven-year-old girl succumbed to the fever in May and was the first patient in Hong Kong to die of the illness in at least a decade.
“We are facing an epidemic,” said Thomas Tsang, the controller of Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection. It is thought that the epidemic was brought on by a mutant strain of scarlet fever that is 60 percent resistant to antibiotics whereas previous strains have been only 10-30 percent resistant.
The new strain is likely more contagious, spreading to mainland China where almost 9,000 cases of scarlet fever have been reported this year. Hong Kong alone has experienced 466 reported cases of the fever in 2011.
Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection caused by the same bacteria responsible for strep throat. The illness is typically characterized by a bright red skin rash, sore throat, and fever. Scarlet fever is generally easy to treat with antibiotics like penicillin and amoxicillin, but if left untreated, patients can develop complications such as rheumatic fever and heart, liver, or kidney damage.
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