QUEENSLAND, Australia – A bacterial infection, known as the scarlet fever,  that emerged in the 1980s worldwide is making a comeback in Britain, China and Hong-Kong. Cases are increasing and tm he disease is showing signs of antibiotic resistance, a study led by researchers at Queensland University reveals. Children between the ages of 5 and 12 are the most affected group.

By using genome sequencing techniques, researchers at UQ’s Australian Infectious Diseases Center investigated the rise of Scarlet fever, which had disappeared for over 100 years. Group A Streptococcus, also known as GAS, is a strep throat bacteria that spreads the infection and causes symptoms such as fever, red rash on the skin, headache, sore throat and nausea. Serious diseases caused by GAS include toxic shock and heart disease.

Streptococcus Pyogenes (Group A Streptococcus) On Chocolate Agar. Credit: microregistrar.com

Although the obsolete disease can be treated with penicillin, other antibiotics are failing to control the infection, which means a real problem to penicillin-allergic patients, according to the study published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports. “An alarming feature of GAS epidemiology in Hong Kong and mainland China has been the high levels of resistance to macrolides, the lincosamide antibiotic, clindamycin and tetracycline”, the paper states.

Nouri Ben Zakour, lead author of the study, declared in a statement: “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 also pointed out the urgency of monitoring the evolution and spread of the bacteria.

It is true that children are the most vulnerable, but almost anybody can get sickened by the bacteria. People may become ill if they touch their mouth, nose or eyes after having contact with little infected drops from a person’s cough or sneeze. Even if they share the same glass or plate with a sick person, they could also become ill.

Cases have been increasing in Asia and Europe since 2011. There have been more than 100,000 cases only in China and over 12,000 in the United Kingdom. The researchers are yet to find the specific causes of the outbreak, but they suggest that it has become antibiotic-resistant because antibiotics are now common in the environment and therefore more bacteria have been exposed to them. This leads to the conclusion that the surviving bacteria have become immune to drugs.

Scarlet disease appeared in 1553 and was the major killer during the 1800s and 1900s, leaving around 250 deaths per 100,000 population in 1840, as reported by the Youth Health Magazine.

Source: The Washington Post