There has been an increase in scarlet fever cases this year. Photo: Hong Kong Government

The Hong Kong Center for Health Protection issued a warning on Monday about a sharp increase in scarlet-fever cases in the city. A total of 1,947 cases were reported in the first 11 months of this year, compared with 1,244 recorded in 2016 and 1,060 in 2015, according to a government release.

Most patients suffered mild illnesses, but 695 cases required hospitalization. There was one severe case reported in March requiring admission to an intensive-care unit, but no deaths have been recorded so far this year.

Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection caused by Group A streptococci and it mostly affects children, especially those aged under 10.

It usually starts with a fever and sore throat. A headache, vomiting and abdominal pain may also occur.

The tongue may have a distinctive strawberry-like (red and bumpy) appearance. A sandpaper-texture-like rash commonly begins on the first or second day over the upper trunk and neck before spreading to the limbs, then becomes more prominent in the armpits, elbows and groin areas.

The rash usually subsides after one week and is followed by skin peeling over fingertips, toes and groin areas.

Hong Kong Medical Association vice-president Alvin Chan said he was worried that the number of patients with more serious complications would increase, Sing Pao Daily reported.

He urged schools to adopt more stringent hygiene and antiseptic controls in light of the situation.