THURSDAY, June 30 (HealthDay News) -- A new strain of drug-resistant scarlet fever appears to be rapidly spreading through Hong Kong and mainland China, but U.S infectious disease experts remain confident that the new bug isn't heading here anytime soon.
Hong Kong has documented more than 615 cases of this new strain of scarlet fever this year, and two children have died, according to news reports. More than 9,000 cases of scarlet fever have also cropped up in China. These numbers are much higher than what is typically seen there, which is why some public health experts believe a mutant strain of group A strep is responsible for this outbreak.
Scarlet fever is an age-old childhood scourge that has been rare in the United States since 1970. Caused by group A strep infection, the illness causes fever, sore throat, white spots on the tonsils, swollen lymph nodes, a bright-red "strawberry" tongue, and a tell-tale red rash that starts on the abdomen and spreads throughout the body within two days. Scarlet fever is treated with antibiotics, but the new Hong Kong strain appears to be resistant to at least two commonly used drugs.
"There are more infections than we would see with the standard strain and a higher level of resistance, but we don't have a lot to be concerned about right now," said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious disease expert at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.
But, he added, "It is a small world, and there are people traveling to Hong Kong and back every single day. And we need to monitor our public health trends and be sensitive to changes or any increase in somewhat unusual infections like scarlet fever."
Scarlet fever is typically spread by direct person-to-person contact and is more common in children under 10, Hirsch said. "Kids under 10 are not the usual business traveler-type," he added.
Still, "wash your hands and make sure yo
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