At Rutgers University, my alma mater, saying that you have scarlet fever is a good thing. The state university of New Jersey is home to the Scarlet Knights, so spreading the school’s contagious spirit is not only encouraged but also celebrated. Unfortunately, the scarlet fever that has been popping up in the news lately is of a different kind, one that results in children suffering from body aches and/or other unpleasant symptoms.
The recent news reports come with varying degrees of concern. Canada’s The Guardian reports that scarlet fever is “making the rounds” in Prince Edward Island. No case counts are reported because the Health Department does not track the illness, which is both common and treatable. Moreover, readers are told not to panic because the outbreak is “not as scary as it sounds.”
On January 27, 2014, a student was diagnosed with scarlet fever at St. Clement’s Catholic Primary School in Runcorn, England. To date, only two cases of the illness have been confirmed by the school, although it is believed that more children may have been infected. In total, St. Clement’s Catholic Primary School has 203 pupils, ranging from the age of four to 11, and many of them are now at an increased risk of getting sick. Dr. Richard Jarvis, a member of the Cheshire and Merseyside Public Health England Centre, urged patients with children who may be infected to visit their general practitioner and treat the condition, if necessary.
Another report published on KSN.com on January 31, warned of an isolated case of scarlet fever in Kansas’s Peabody School District. “Scarlet fever,” the article opens, “is very serious,” and for that reason, the school is taking special efforts to keep the facility sanitized.
Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection that mainly affects children between five and 12 years of age. It is spread by group A Streptococcus, the bacteria that cause strep throat. One of the main symptoms is a rough, red rash (hence the name “scarlet”) that typically appears on the skin of an infected individual one or two days after the illness begins. The red patch of skin with a sandpaper texture usually fades away within seven days, but the peeling of the skin around the fingertips, toes, and groin can continue for several weeks. Other symptoms of scarlet fever include a sore throat, fever, headache, and nausea. In the past, the disease was more common and more severe. Today, scarlet fever can be treated with antibiotics in order to speed up recovery, to reduce transmission to others, and to prevent possible complications. Complications may include inflammation of the kidneys (kidney disease) and the joints (arthritis) as well as infections affecting the lungs (pneumonia), ears, and skin.
To prevent scarlet fever, those infected should try to prevent spreading germs by covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze, and washing their hands often. Similarly, people who are not infected should avoid sharing eating utensils, linens, towels, or other toiletries with those who are sick. As the CDC recommends, a child who develops any of the symptoms that characterize scarlet fever should be taken to the doctor.