Public Health England is reporting a rise in cases of scarlet fever this year seeing nearly 1,300 cases during the first month and a half of 2015. This is nearly double the number of cases reported during the same period in 2014.

Group-A Streptococcus (GAS)/CDC
Group-A Streptococcus (GAS)/CDC

Steep increases in scarlet fever activity are being seen across the country, with over 300 cases reported last week (2 to 9 February 2015).

To date in 2015, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands, London and North East have seen the most cases, all reporting greater than 100 cases during the first six weeks.

Increases in scarlet fever are normal at this time of year as we approach high season between March and April. However, the numbers of cases currently being reported are above what is typical for this time of the year. Whilst this might reflect heightened awareness and improved diagnosis and/or notification practices, the high number of cases currently being notified are of concern. Last year in England, over 14,000 cases of scarlet fever were notified, the highest total since the late 1960s.

Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said:

As we enter into high season for scarlet fever, we ask GPs and other frontline medical staff to be mindful of the current high levels of scarlet fever activity when assessing patients. Prompt notification of cases to local health protection teams is critical to enable local monitoring and rapid response to outbreaks. Schools and nurseries should similarly be mindful of the current elevated levels of scarlet fever and promptly inform local health protection teams at an early stage if they become aware of cases, especially if more than 1 child is affected.

The first symptoms of scarlet fever include a sore throat and fever which may be accompanied by a headache, nausea and vomiting. Between 12 to 48 hours after this, a characteristic fine, sandpapery rash develops, often appearing first on the chest or stomach. Cases are more common in children although adults of all ages can also develop scarlet fever. Individuals who think they or their child may have scarlet fever should consult their GP. Symptoms usually clear up after a week and in the majority of cases remain reasonably mild providing a course of antibiotics is completed to reduce the risk of complications.

As scarlet fever is highly contagious, children or adults diagnosed with scarlet fever are advised to stay at home until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid passing on the infection. For families and friends caring for someone with scarlet fever, the risk of spread can be reduced through frequent hand washing and ensuring clothes, bedding, towels and cutlery are not shared between members of the household.

PHE local health protection teams are on hand to provide authoritative advice and rapid response where outbreaks are detected. We will continue to closely monitor these increases both nationally and locally and work with healthcare professionals and schools to raise awareness and halt the spread of infection.