What Are the Causes and Risk Factors of Scarlet Fever?

Streptococcus bacteria

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  • Even though scarlet fever has been recognized as a disease since 1553, it wasn’t until the 1920s that this illness was associated with the sore throat caused by hemolytic Streptococcus bacteria
  • Aside from age, there are also other factors that may increase your susceptibility to Streptococcal infection, thereby putting you at risk of scarlet fever

Even though scarlet fever has been recognized as a disease since 1553, it wasn’t until the 1920s that this illness was associated with the sore throat caused by hemolytic Streptococcus bacteria. The association was made by Drs. George and Gladys Dick, who also identified the toxin responsible for the characteristic rashes of this disease. These discoveries led to a better understanding of scarlet fever, which may have helped lower its prevalence and mortality rate.1,2,3

Modern Studies Confirm the Role of Streptococcus Bacteria in the Occurrence of Scarlet Fever

Recent studies have confirmed that the culprits behind scarlet fever are the group A beta-hemolytic Streptococcus bacteria. Commonly found in the throat or on the skin’s surface, these bacteria have the ability to produce the exotoxin that’s responsible for the hallmark red rashes of scarlet fever.4,5

Not everyone reacts to this toxin, though. Some individuals may carry and pass on the bacteria without developing any symptoms of scarlet fever. Group A strep can be easily spread from one person to another through close physical contact, making it a common cause of other infections, including strep throat and impetigo.6

These Streptococcal infections, particularly strep throat, are considered a precursor to scarlet fever.7 In fact, around 10 percent of the population develops strep throat, and 10 percent of those patients develop scarlet fever as well.8

Some Age Groups Are More Susceptible to Scarlet Fever

Statistics have consistently shown that scarlet fever is most common in children between 5 to 15 years old. Around 80 percent of scarlet fever patients fall under this age group,9 while 15 to 20 percent of school-age children are believed to be asymptomatic carriers of the Streptococcus bacteria.10

Moreover, research shows that approximately 80 percent of children will develop lifelong antibodies against Streptococcal exotoxins by the time they reach 10 years old, which may help lower their risk for scarlet fever as they age.11 Although adults are less susceptible to scarlet fever, they’re still at risk of developing it, especially when highly exposed to infected individuals.12 Children below 2 years old are also less likely to develop scarlet fever since they still have maternal antibodies.13

Other Factors That May Increase Your Risk for Scarlet Fever

Aside from age, there are also other factors that may increase your susceptibility to Streptococcal infection, thereby putting you at risk of scarlet fever. Some of these factors are:

Overcrowded communities: Overcrowded areas like schools, dormitories, nurseries, military camps and other institutional settings can be a breeding ground for Streptococcus bacteria, since these are places where people are often in close contact with one another.14,15

Poor hygiene: Poor hygiene habits, like improper handwashing and sharing of personal items, can make you more susceptible to various kinds of infections.16

Moreover, epidemiological data shows that the risk for developing scarlet fever may increase in temperate environments during late fall, winter and spring.17

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health also suggests that exposure to air pollutants like nitrogen dioxide may increase your risk of having scarlet fever due to its negative effects on the upper respiratory tract. However, further research is still needed to support this theory.18

MORE ABOUT SCARLET FEVER

Scarlet Fever: Introduction

What Is Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet Fever Symptoms

Scarlet Fever Causes

Scarlet Fever Treatment

Scarlet Fever Prevention

Scarlet Fever Diet

Scarlet Fever FAQ


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