RED ALERT: Scarlet Fever cases DOUBLE

Scarlet fever cases DOUBLE reaching more than 15,000 – here are the signs every parent needs to know.

Common signs of scarlet fever include a widespread, fine pink-red rash that feels like sandpaper to touch and is itchy.  There are now calls for parents to check their kids for a telltale rash. In the 13 weeks leading up to April 1st there were 15,549 suspected cases of the infection.

You’re wrong if you believe that I’ve copied a news item from ‘The Courier’ Brisbane in the 1870’s. In fact it’s an article by Lizzie Parry, Digital Health Editor in ‘The Sun’ newspaper, United Kingdom, on the 5th April 2018! Dr Theresa Lamagni, from Public Health England goes on to say:

“while current rates are nowhere near those seen in the early 1900s, the magnitude of the recent upsurge is greater than any documented in the last century.” (1)

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 4.53.00 pm
Scarlet fever also causes symptoms like a fever, rash, sore throat and “strawberry tongue”.
Last week I wrote about the ‘Childhood illness and death in the 19th and 21st centuries,’ in which I compared the gulf that exists between our modern treatments and technology and those that were available in Australia back in the 19th century. Globally we can still, unfortunately, say that medical gulf exists in so many developing countries and also is unavailable to others who simply can’t afford it. But globally, we are also seeing the rise in the 21st century of what could be considered Victorian-era diseases such as Scarlet Fever in Asia and the United Kingdom, as well as Tuberculosis, Measles and Mumps in many countries. It seems we are once again facing the same illnesses as our community did well over 100 years ago.
Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 4.50.06 pm
Caused by an infection from Streptococcus pyogenesa bacteria, it’s not really known why there’s a recent upsurge of Scarlet Fever considering that it’s been generally on the decline. But, as it was in the 1800’s, it still commonly infects children with 89% of the recent cases occurring in children aged 10 and under. Given that I began focussing on 19th century childhood illness last week, and that I will be uploading an eBook on the Warders’ Children’s Cemetery very soon, I thought I would continue unravelling the stories of 19th century childhood illnesses known to strike St Helena Island and which ultimately resulted in children’s deaths.

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 5.43.28 pm

Surges of Scarlet Fever outbreaks occurred in Brisbane during the 1800’s, similar to what we are experiencing today. In 1874, 10 deaths was attributed to Scarlet Fever, which by the next year had rocketed to 51 deaths in 1875 alone. Despite the isolation of St Helena Island’s inhabitants from diseases on the mainland, the disease broke out amongst the warder’s families. Striking the young children most of all, 2 year old Andrew Craigie succumbed to the illness in December 1875 whilst on St Helena Island. Dr Challinor stated he died from ‘Scarlet Fever and Convulsions’ lasting one day.

Andrew Craigie Jnr is buried in the St Helena Island Warders’ Children’s Cemetery.

Scarlet Fever is easily spread, by breathing in bacteria from an infected person’s cough and sneezes, touching them or sharing contaminated linen. On St Helena Island in the mid 1870’s, in the small, closed community of around 7 families, the disease spread to the Maitland family. Daughter Mary succumbed to Scarlet Fever in January of 1876, aged two, making her one of the 28 cases reported in Brisbane that year.

Mary Maitland’s grave in the St Helena Island cemetery is faded and worn over the years, but still remains.

Scarlet Fever is known to follow a “natural cyclical pattern” every four to six years. In the table above, we see another small rise in 1883/1884, and a larger outbreak in 1890 and 1891. It was this outbreak that tolled the death knell for warder’s families to be living on the island. Scarlet Fever was actually the trigger responsible for the Government mandating that warder’s families would be removed to the mainland permanently. Once again, isolation should have prevented an outbreak:

Some time ago, when it became known that there was so much Scarlet Fever in Brisbane, a regulation was made forbidding the women and children going to town without permission. Early in December last, a Mrs Hore, the schoolmaster’s wife and a Mrs Howard got permission to go to town … 5 members of the Hore family developed symptoms of sore throat and high fever and her newborn baby was very ill… (3)

Eventually 18 people from 5 different families were brought to Brisbane Hospital in two furniture vans. The rest of the warders with families were sent to Peel Island to be isolated, and then told they would not be returning to St Helena:

Mr. Gunning gave a brief account of the out-break of the fever on the island… had received instructions from the Colonial Secretary that their wives and families were no longer to be allowed to reside at St. Helena. They considered this was a great hardship, as they had been resident there from eight to thirteen years. They did not like the idea of their wives and families being in Brisbane unprotected…

Nothing had occurred on the island for the past twenty years to warrant the sending away of their wives and families from the island, and the warders affected felt they were being dealt with very harshly. He had a wife and three children, and he would feel it very keenly if compelled to live apart from them, and only see them once every four and a-half months. (4)

Scarlet Fever certainly changed the course of St Helena Island’s history forever. And on the island are two headstones in the small children’s cemetery that are the reminders of the long legacy left by Scarlet Fever.

Tune in next week to see more details and my new discoveries in the Warders’ Children’s Cemetery eBook!

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 9.28.47 pm



  2. Scarlet Fever and measles table: Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Tuesday 29 August 1893
  3. The Brisbane courier, 30th January 1891
  4. The Brisbane Courier 3rd February 1891

3 thoughts on “RED ALERT: Scarlet Fever cases DOUBLE

Leave a reply, we'd love to here from you!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.