There have been a few diagnosed cases of scarlet fever in the Tri-port area, but it’s nothing to get too excited about, said the North Island’s top doc.
“I do know earlier (last) month we received a couple of indications there may be scarlet fever in the community,” said Dr. Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for the North Island.
“There are physician diagnosed cases of scarlet fever that have occurred in the community and the number that was shared with me was not many, five to 10 … it’s not too concerning from what my staff are seeing.”
The Gazette received several calls from concerned parents and other family members who believed the disease was epidemic, but “that’s simply not the case,” said Hasselback.
“There are people who believe it’s going on and the perception is a legitimate concern,” he said, from his Nanaimo office.
“There’s more anxiety from people who haven’t had this disease.”
Scarlet fever is typically associated with children, but doctors don’t see it as often as in the past because of antibiotics and good hygiene, said Hasselback.
Indeed, while scarlet fever is contagious, it doesn’t spread very well. “It’s not like every student can come down with this,” said Hasselback.
And for these who get exposed, not many of them will actually get sick.
The challenge, said the doctor, is everyone who comes down with a rash does not seek out medical attention.
“This is not a disease that is reportable,” he said.
“If a student is off school or away they need not tell the school why they’re ill, they need not tell us.”
Another problem is there are lots of myths and misinformation about scarlet fever.
“Many, many decades ago, it used to be associated with all sorts of problems,” said Hasselback.
“There are 100 or so different types of strep and only a few cause a rash and occasionally when strep goes untreated it can cause other problems as well — kidney and heart specifically — but we rarely see that sort of problem anymore.”
Scarlet fever has been called strep throat, but with a rash.
“That’s a very simplified way of putting it, but not far off the mark,” said Hasselback.
“Not all strep is the same and most of the strep throat we see don’t result in the rash that goes with scarlet fever.”
The best protection against any respiratory illnesses is good solid hygiene, said Hasselback .
“So when you cough, you cough into (the crook) of your elbow and you wash your hands frequently whether you’re sick or not.”
What is it?
Scarlet fever is caused by streptococcal (strep) bacteria, the same bacteria that cause strep throat. There are many different strains of strep bacteria, some of which cause more serious illness than others.
The most noticeable symptom of scarlet fever is a rough, red rash that feels like fine sandpaper. Other symptoms are the same as strep throat — except for the rash — and include:
• Fever of 38.5°C —101°F — or higher.
• Sore throat and difficulty swallowing.
• White or yellow spots or coating on the throat and tonsils.
• Swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
Other symptoms that appear before the rash, especially in children, may include general body aches, headache, stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, or listlessness.