Scarlet Fever? Like What the Pilgrims Always Died From?

 

Just a few minutes after I posted Laura’s piece about Christmases past from Little House on the Main Feed yesterday, I got my own reminder about being thankful for modern life.

Two days ago I brought my youngest son, 2-year-old “Altima” (his online nickname is where he was born: in my husband’s Nissan) to the pediatrician. He had been running a 102-103 degree fever for several days and wouldn’t eat, despite us hearing his stomach rumbling from hunger. The doctor took a double swab: one for a rapid strep test and one for a throat culture. When the rapid test came back negative, we assumed it was a virus; my guess was coxsackie because he was also covered in a rash.

Yesterday afternoon, I got a call that the throat culture had come back positive; he did indeed have strep.  I was about to call back, concerned he might have something else, because the rash was now incredibly uncomfortable and itchy, which it never is when the coxsackievirus is present. While I was on hold after talking to the nurse about the positive results, but before I got on with the doctor, I Googled “itchy rash, strep” and up popped up… scarlet fever.

I genuinely had no idea that anyone still got scarlet fever; I didn’t know it was actually caused by the strep bacteria. When I got on with the pediatrician, I told her about the rash, and she assured me that this is can be a complication of strep, and that the antibiotics would take care of it. I asked “is this scarlet fever, like what the Pilgrims always died from? Because that’s what Google is telling me.” She laughed and said, “We don’t use those words with parents because they get freaked out. But yes, it is, but we have antibiotics, and they didn’t. It’s just another childhood illness now.”

I hung up and laughed while telling my older kids that their brother had scarlet fever. They went ashen, asking if he’d go blind like Mary Ingalls. We just finished the Little House series during our read aloud, and asked how he could have possibly been bitten by a mosquito (confused with malaria). Once I explained the difference between scarlet fever and malaria, we had a conversation about how antibiotics have changed human existence.

Then I read this chilling piece in the New York Times about antibiotic resistance and how companies trying to develop new drugs are going out of business.

The problem is straightforward: The companies that have invested billions to develop the drugs have not found a way to make money selling them. Most antibiotics are prescribed for just days or weeks — unlike medicines for chronic conditions like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis that have been blockbusters — and many hospitals have been unwilling to pay high prices for the new therapies. Political gridlock in Congress has thwarted legislative efforts to address the problem.

The challenges facing antibiotic makers come at time when many of the drugs designed to vanquish infections are becoming ineffective against bacteria and fungi, as overuse of the decades-old drugs has spurred them to develop defenses against the medicines.

If we could give Congress and our federal government a New Year’s resolution it should be focusing on fixing this problem before it becomes a full-blown crisis.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    We’ve been hearing for years about infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Some doctors have gotten smarter and are not prescribing antibiotics for everything, and being more discreet. Even so, I worry that in the future we will not be prepared. I hope those companies that focus on new antibiotics will somehow be saved.

    • #1
  2. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Wow! I wonder how many illnesses are now just “regular run of the mill” because we happen to have some antibiotics? I hope more is put into research and development to stay ahead of these, since the resistance is increasing.  Also the push to not vaccinate among young families is concerning, especially with more and more people migrating, legally and illegally, it could spell new epidemics. I hope your baby is feeling better!

    • #2
  3. Bethany Mandel Editor
    Bethany Mandel
    @bethanymandel

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    We’ve been hearing for years about infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Some doctors have gotten smarter and are not prescribing antibiotics for everything, and being more discreet. Even so, I worry that in the future we will not be prepared. I hope those companies that focus on new antibiotics will somehow be saved.

    It seems the problem is a lot more complex than just overprescribing. I was reading airplane sewage is part. 

    Our doctors here have been very conservative, but in Cambodia people take them over the counter for any.thing.

    • #3
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    I heard Capt. Rhett Butler died of Scarlet Fever.

    Michigan football coach, Jim “Owen” Harbaugh*, has had it for half a decade.

     

    *To be accurate, he’s Owen-5. 

    • #4
  5. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Do I remember that scarlet fever can cause heart valve problems? It seems I had an aunt that had those  repercussions but I am not positive.

    • #5
  6. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Bethany Mandel: If we could give Congress and our federal government a New Year’s resolution it should be focusing on fixing this problem before it becomes a full-blown crisis.

    I agree. This should be its top priority. 

    • #6
  7. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Altima’s gonna be okay, right?  You kinda left it hanging . . .

    • #7
  8. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    I had scarlet fever as a child in the early 70’s or late 60’s.  I remember being sick, and I remember my mom being terrified for me.  But antibiotics worked great, I got better soon enough.  As I got older and learned how deadly it used to be, I wondered how my mom was able to keep the composure she did.  

    • #8
  9. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    Do I remember that scarlet fever can cause heart valve problems? It seems I had an aunt that had those repercussions but I am not positive.

    When my dad had a heart valve replaced, I asked his doctor if that made me more likely to need one too, since I’m a dead ringer for my dad and I seem to have all his other foibles.  My dad’s valve was calcified in some way.  (F0rgive me, I’m no medical expert, I’m just repeating what I think he told me.)

    The doctor told me no, that heart valves usually go bad, at least in the way my dad’s went bad, because the person likely had strep throat as a child.  But nowadays with antibiotics, the strep bacteria is controlled before that calcification process gets triggered.  The doctor told me that people raised when antibiotics were available will likely never have the problem my dad had.

     

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Skyler (View Comment):
    When my dad had a heart valve replaced, I asked his doctor if that made me more likely to need one too, since I’m a dead ringer for my dad and I seem to have all his other foibles.

    How wise of you to see that possible connection and for him to relieve your mind! These days it can be tricky to know what is passed on and how. That’s great news, @skyler.

    • #10
  11. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    When my dad had a heart valve replaced, I asked his doctor if that made me more likely to need one too, since I’m a dead ringer for my dad and I seem to have all his other foibles.

    How wise of you to see that possible connection and for him to relieve your mind! These days it can be tricky to know what is passed on and how. That’s great news, @skyler.

    Wisdom?  Nah, just fear!

    • #11
  12. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha
    @PettyBoozswha

    A few days ago I noted on a different posting that diabetes is probably a bigger threat on the horizon than climate change. I’d add drug resistance should probably be on that list too. In the 1950′ s futurists were predicting half the population would be administering to the other half in iron lungs due to polio.

    • #12
  13. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle
    @SusaninSeattle

    My maternal grandmother died in 1944 at age 44 of complications from having had scarlet fever as a young child.  According to my mother, she had an enlarged heart which ultimately led to her death.  Hoping your Altima heals up quickly – please keep us posted. 

    • #13
  14. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I also had Scarlet Fever and Strep at the same time, when I was maybe 7 years old. I remember being very proud of that, for some reason that now escapes me.

    Drug resistance is such an oft-repeated theme that my contrarian bones are starting to act up. We have been hearing about this for my entire life. To some people, taking antibiotics is worse than smoking or being fat or other profound moral failings. It is insane.

    There are, theoretically, an infinite range of antibiotics. There must also be a pretty quick way to see whether a certain antibiotic works against a certain bacterium in a petri dish or on a swab.  And I am tired of endless doom-and-gloom and strict injunctions to never issue antibiotics unless we are sure that the illness is caused by bacteria and not a virus. I am quite sure that many people have been denied life-saving medication because of these “greater good” kinds of moral lectures.

     

     

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Early in my husband’s treatment for bronchiectasis, his doctor (widely celebrated) told him that it was possible as the disease progressed and he started getting infections due to his compromised lung function, he might have to go on a regimen of antibiotics–three months on, three months off. (Fortunately he’s holding his own without them.) We heard the news about antibiotic resistance. His doctor, a practical guy, told us not to worry about it; there’d always be plenty of antibiotics available. It’s hard to know what to believe.

    • #15
  16. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    When our now 45  year old architect son was young, he was diagnosed with Scarlet Fever.  My father in law panicked and was sure that it was a death sentence.  He was born in South Dakota in 1910 and to him, it was. 

    We really live in a blessed time.

    • #16
  17. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    The answer is bacteriophages. Humanity will utilize the greatest killer that has ever existed to defeat our enemies. Check out my post on how bacteriophages have already been used to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria.

     

    To paraphrase Hindu holy texts, “Now I am become death. Destroyer of bacteria.”

     

    Image result for bacteriophages

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YI3tsmFsrOg

     

    • #17
  18. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Check out my post on how bacteriophages have already been used to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria.

    So cool. And so very gross.

    • #18
  19. Bethany Mandel Editor
    Bethany Mandel
    @bethanymandel

    Stad (View Comment):

    Altima’s gonna be okay, right? You kinda left it hanging . . .

    LOL presumably. He started antibiotics yesterday and his fever broke.

    • #19
  20. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    iWe (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Check out my post on how bacteriophages have already been used to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria.

    So cool. And so very gross.

    Viruses aren’t gross. They are tiny self-replicating robots. And you guys know how much I love robots. Seriously, viruses aren’t slimy like bacteria or mammalian babies. 

    • #20
  21. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Actually, upon reflection, the problem seems to be the FDA – both for new antibiotics and bacteriophages. Regulatory hassles are a huge impediment to innovation.

    • #21
  22. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    iWe (View Comment):

    Actually, upon reflection, the problem seems to be the FDA – both for new antibiotics and bacteriophages. Regulatory hassles are a huge impediment to innovation.

    That’s not just a big deal for America but the world. The U.S.A. is a big leader for innovation and anything that stifles our innovation stifles the world’s innovation. Also, American government, colleges and most importantly, our culture at large, has deeply ingrained medical ethics. We don’t want to cede ground to the Communist Chinese. Instead, we want the brightest Chinese to want to move to America to help sick people and learn cool new stuff about science. 

    • #22
  23. Derek Helt Inactive
    Derek Helt
    @DerekHelt

    Bethany Mandel (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    We’ve been hearing for years about infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Some doctors have gotten smarter and are not prescribing antibiotics for everything, and being more discreet. Even so, I worry that in the future we will not be prepared. I hope those companies that focus on new antibiotics will somehow be saved.

    It seems the problem is a lot more complex than just overprescribing. I was reading airplane sewage is part.

    Our doctors here have been very conservative, but in Cambodia people take them over the counter for any.thing.

    Literally any illness. If a Cambodian gets a cold, he/she wants a doctor (or some close approximation) to give them a pill or shot that’s going to heal them. And sometimes they’ll just go buy antibiotics over the counter and take them. They be crazy about their drugs.

    • #23
  24. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    Do I remember that scarlet fever can cause heart valve problems? It seems I had an aunt that had those repercussions but I am not positive.

    Yes, it can cause endocarditis, also glomerulonephritis and kidney failure.   This is not a minor illness.

    Two well-known Georges, Bizet and Washington, likely died of strep throat.  A quarter’s worth of penicillin would have cured them.

    Don’t dump on drug companies quite so quickly until you consider how their products have reduced human suffering.  I would like to have the chance to hear the sequel to Carmen

    Read William Carlos Williams’ story The Use of Force for a better understanding of what killed kids, and adults, before penicillin.

    http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/force.html

     

    • #24
  25. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    Read William Carlos Williams’ story The Use of Force for a better understanding of what killed kids, and adults, before penicillin.

    http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/force.html

    Good writer, and interesting, but is he trying to get a similar reaction out of me by not concluding the story?

    • #25
  26. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret
    @CarolJoy

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    Do I remember that scarlet fever can cause heart valve problems? It seems I had an aunt that had those repercussions but I am not positive.

    I think that is rheumatic fever that causes the heart valve problems.

    • #26
  27. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    Do I remember that scarlet fever can cause heart valve problems? It seems I had an aunt that had those repercussions but I am not positive.

    Yes, it can cause endocarditis, also glomerulonephritis and kidney failure. This is not a minor illness.

    Two well-known Georges, Bizet and Washington, likely died of strep throat. A quarter’s worth of penicillin would have cured them.

    Don’t dump on drug companies quite so quickly until you consider how their products have reduced human suffering. I would like to have the chance to hear the sequel to Carmen

    Read William Carlos Williams’ story The Use of Force for a better understanding of what killed kids, and adults, before penicillin.

    http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/force.html

    I thought epiglottitis killed Washington. I’ve had it and can see how it could. 

    • #27
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