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Doctors Urge Parents to Look out for Scarlet Fever

For many, scarlet fever evokes images of a Dickensian world populated with suffering children and disease-riddled Victorian cities. In fact, the disease was a scourge in the 19th century before improved hygiene and sanitation slashed incidents.  Charles Dickens’ son fell gravely ill with scarlet fever and the disease was mentioned in a number of his works. 

As outmoded as scarlet fever may sound to modern readers, it is no longer the remnant of a bygone era in the U.K., but a present concern. Parents have been urged by doctors to be on the lookout for the newly resurgent disease. The Grimsby Telegraph reports that cases of scarlet fever have spiked in recent weeks. There have been 3,173 cases of scarlet fever reported since the start of the year, nearly double the 1,619 in the same period in 2017, and an over ten-fold increase from the 269 in January, 2011.

The symptoms of scarlet fever, which usually afflicts children between the ages of 2 and 8, includes rashes, fever, sore throat and “strawberry tongue,” which appears white during the early stages of an infection and red after 4-5 days. 

A lurid red rash is both the source of scarlet fever’s names and is its most easily identified attribute. The disease occurs when toxins from a strep infection cause a scarlet-colored rash to develop on different parts of the body. Both strep throat and scarlet fever are Group A streptococcus (GAS) bacteria and generally last about a week. Infected individuals spread scarlet fever with coughing, sneezing and other methods of saliva transfer. 

Scarlet fever can be treated with antibiotics, but this medical innovation should not be credited with reducing this disease’s once staggering death toll. Cases of scarlet fever had already fallen markedly before antibiotics were available and periodic spikes in cases appear to be cyclical. Keep this in mind if this story grows bigger and antibiotics begin to receive undue credit for turning this once deadly illness into a serious but rarely fatal one. 

The history of scarlet fever nearly disappearing after the implementation of sanitation and hygiene measures parallels the other deadly diseases from that era. The eradication of smallpox, another blight from a century ago, is often falsely credited to vaccines. Historical data reveals that smallpox was eradicated through efforts like isolation, improved nutrition, hygiene and sanitation.  

Scarlet fever is not a reportable disease in the U.S. and is not tracked by the CDC. The conventional method used to treat scarlet fever is antibiotics, but this class of medicines can set you up for more health risks that you might be unaware of. 

Adopting proper hygienic practices is best way to protect yourself from both scarlet fever and the far more common strep throat. The fact is that proper hand washing, especially after coughing and sneezing or before preparing food, is the best way to prevent the spread of contagious disease. Aside from washing your hands, switching from processed food to organic and real food can boost your immune system. The immune system serves as the body’s “shield” by fighting disease-causing bacteria and germs. With fresh produce, meat and dairy products, your body will be healthy and strong.