Australian parents are warned to be on the alert for Scarlet Fever but not be overly alarmed, following the deaths of at least eight children in the United Kingdom.
Scarlet Fever – medically known as a group A Streptococcal infection – is a bacteria that causes infection, and is surprisingly very common, often failing to cause severe illness.
The University of Queensland says it is on the rise worldwide, after it was almost eradicated in the 1940s.
It is not a notifiable disease in Australia.
A number of kindergartens and schools in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs have sent notes home in recent weeks advising parents of their child’s possible exposure to the illness.
Melbourne mum Tara couldn’t believe it when her son Eli, 3, was diagnosed with Scarlet Fever last week.
It started with what looked like mosquito bites on his face that spread down his body and was diagnosed by the doctor as a viral rash.
As his condition deteriorated, Tara took him to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital where he was diagnosed with Scarlet Fever.
“The only time I had heard of Scarlet Fever was from the movie Little Women, where one of the sisters gets it and dies – so that was my first thought,” Tara told AAP.
“But obviously the doctor wasn’t concerned and said it should start to clear up over the weekend with some antibiotics.”
After his diagnosis Tara said she had spoken to other parents who had heard of a number of other local children with the illness.
Another parent who received a note from their daughter’s kindergarten said she felt nervous considering the deaths reported in the UK.
There are reports of a small outbreak in Melbourne’s outer east, but the Victorian health department does not collect data on the number of cases.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners spokesman Dr Bernard Shiu said it wasn’t unusual for clusters to occur in Australia.
“Periodically we will get pockets of people getting the diagnosis of Scarlet Fever because certain doctors will start doing tests when they know of other cases in the area and it is spreading in that community,” Dr Shiu told AAP.
“It’s pretty contagious. But it doesn’t mean it’s nationwide as a major problem.”
Dr Shiu said it was concerning to see the news of numerous deaths from Scarlet Fever overseas but said those that had died were affected by a rare and specific type of bacteria, different to the “garden variety” seen in Australia.
He said Australia on average would see around 2000 cases of Scarlet Fever each year, a similar figure to the UK.
The best way to avoid infection, according to the Department of Health, is to maintain good hygiene.
Symptoms of Scarlet Fever:
* inflammation of the throat
* a pink-red rash spreading across the abdomen, side of the chest and in the skin folds.The rash may feel like sandpaper when touched
* a bright red tongue (known as ‘strawberry tongue’)
* paleness around the mouth.
Source: Better Health Victoria