Scarlet fever, a childhood disease that had been largely relegated to the history books, is reappearing in some parts of the world, researchers warn.
Outbreaks have been reported in the United Kingdom and Asia, said scientists at the Australian Infectious Diseases Center at the University of Queensland.
“We have not yet had an outbreak in Australia, but over the past five years there have been more than 5,000 cases in Hong Kong [a 10-fold increase] and more than 100,000 cases in China,” Mark Walker, a professor in the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, said in a university news release.
“An outbreak in the U.K. has resulted in 12,000 cases since last year,” he added.
The research team used genetic sequencing to investigate the rise in scarlet fever-causing bacteria and its increasing resistance to antibiotics.
The study was published online Nov. 2 in the journal Scientific Reports.
Scarlet fever, which mainly affects children younger than 10, is spread by the same bacteria that cause strep throat, the researchers said.
Symptoms include a red skin rash, sore throat, fever, headache and nausea. Antibiotics are used to treat serious cases.
The findings are “deeply concerning,” said Nouri Ben Zakour, a researcher in the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.
“We now have a situation which may change the nature of the disease and make it resistant to broad-spectrum treatments normally prescribed for respiratory tract infections, such as in scarlet fever,” she said in the news release.
Untreated, scarlet fever can lead to rheumatic fever, which can permanently damage the heart.
The re-emergence of scarlet fever could be due to a number of factors, and further research is needed to pinpoint them, the study authors said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about scarlet fever.