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June 24, 2011

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13-fold increase in scarlet fever cases

SHANGHAI reported 771 cases of scarlet fever last month - more than 13 times the number recorded during the same period last year.

The city began to see a rise in numbers in March, when there were 143 cases, followed by 270 cases in April, said the Shanghai Health Bureau.

In February, there were only 28 cases of the disease that mainly affects children under 10, and 87 in January.

In May 2010, 58 cases of scarlet fever were reported in the city.

Bureau officials didn't offer an explanation for the rise, but insisted yesterday numbers are stable and under control.

Hong Kong has reported a high incidence of scarlet fever in recent weeks, with two children dying of the disease.

Researchers there said the epidemic has been caused by a drug-resistant mutated bacteria that is easily spread.

Local health officials said Shanghai hasn't found any genetic change in the bacteria causing scarlet fever, but the authorities will keep a close eye on the situation.

Doctors from the Shanghai Children's Medical Center said they saw more patients with scarlet fever than usual last month.

"We usually receive dozens of patients over several months but had 30 patients last month," said Xia Lin, a hospital official. "We didn't detect any abnormal conditions such as drug resistance."

And earlier this month, a local primary school suspended classes after 47 of around 1,000 pupils contracted the disease.

Lu Hongzhou, vice president of the Shanghai Public Health Center, said the rise could be because immunity has dropped off in recent years as the number of cases fell from a 1990s peak.

Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection that is spread through the saliva and nasal mucus of infected people and usually peaks in spring. Symptoms include a sore throat, a rash and a whitish or yellowish coating on the tongue.

"There is no vaccine against scarlet fever but timely antibiotics treatment can cure it completely," said Lu Hongzhou.

"Parents must take their children to hospital in time. Delayed or improper treatment can cause serious complications, such as damage to the heart and kidneys."

People infected with scarlet fever should stay at home to prevent it spreading.

It is listed as a B-level infectious disease which must be reported to the health authorities immediately.

Scarlet fever was the second most reported infectious disease in the city in May, after gonorrhea. In March and April it was the fifth most reported infectious disease.

Only 420 people contracted scarlet fever in the city last year, said the bureau.


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