Scarlett fever outbreak hits Hong Kong

Public health officials in Hong Kong have issued a warning about an outbreak of scarlet fever that has infected more than 400 children this year.

Researchers in Hong Kong said that the disease, which is spread by coughing and sneezing, may be moving through the population more quickly than usual due to a genetic mutation, according to the BBC.

Cases of the disease have also been confirmed in mainland China and Macau.

Scarlet fever occurs every year in the region, but this year has seen more cases than usual. In China, scarlet fever infections have increased by five times the normal rate, and Macau has seen an increase to three times the normal rate.

"If the genetic mutation is responsible for the increased transmissibility of the bacteria, the outbreak may be sustained for some time,” Dr. Thomas Tsang, controller of Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection, said, the BBC reportd.

Most of the cases have been confirmed in children under the age of 10, with clusters appearing in kindergartens, primary schools and child care centers.

A six-year-old was confirmed to have died from the disease last month, and initial tests suggest that a five-year-old boy may have also recently died from the infection.