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Public Health England (PHE) has reported a continued increase in cases of scarlet fever across England with a total of 10,570 cases reported since September 2015.
Scarlet fever is mainly a childhood disease and commonly strikes children between the ages of two and eight years. The disease usually reaches peak levels in mid-March and lasts throughout April. However, there is currently no vaccine for the disease.
Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: “As we reach peak season for scarlet fever, health practitioners should be particularly mindful of the current high levels of scarlet fever when assessing patients.
“Close monitoring, rapid and decisive response to potential outbreaks and early treatment of scarlet fever with an appropriate antibiotic remains essential, especially given the potential complications associated with group A streptococcal infections.
“PHE strongly urges people with symptoms of scarlet fever, which include a sore throat, headache and fever accompanied by a characteristic rash, to consult their GP. Scarlet fever should be treated with antibiotics to reduce risk of complications.
“Once children or adults are diagnosed with scarlet fever we strongly advise them to stay at home until at least 24-hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid passing on the infection.”
A total of 17,600 cases were recorded in the 2015 season, increasing from 15,600 confirmed cases in 2014.
Cases have particularly increased in areas across the south of England, with London, Kent, Hertfordshire, Essex and others experiencing hundreds more cases than last year.
These figures have been coupled with an increase in an invasive disease caused by the same bacterium group A streptococcus (GAS) which causes scarlet fever.
A total of 593 cases of invasive GAS infection, such and bloodstream infection or pneumonia, have been notified so far in 2016 compared to 440 cases for the same period last year.
While older people remain most at risk of invasive GAS infection, increased levels of disease have been seen in children less than five-years-old. Research suggests that this is the third season in a row in which elevated scarlet fever activity has been noted.
GAS bacteria are spread by direct person-to-person contact with an individual carrying the bacteria or indirectly through contact with bacteria in the environment. Keeping wounds clean and practising hand hygiene can decrease chances of catching a GAS infection.
Public Health England urges parents of any child who does not show signs of improvement within a few days of starting treatment to seek urgent medical advice. Long-term health problems from scarlet fever can include rheumatic fever, kidney disease, otitis and repeated skin infections.
Dr Lamagni added: “Parents can play a key role in recognising when their child needs to be seen by their GP. Early signs to look out for are sore throat, headache and fever with the characteristic pinkish/red sandpapery rash appearing within a day or two, typically on the chest and stomach but then spreading to other parts of the body.
“Where outbreaks occur, PHE local health protection teams (HPT) are on hand to provide a rapid response, effective outbreak management and authoritative advice. Schools, nurseries and childcare settings should embed good hand hygiene practice within daily routines for pupils and staff and alert their local PHE HPT if an outbreak of scarlet fever is suspected.”
For more information visit: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Scarlet-fever/Pages/Introduction.aspx