Scarlet fever cases rising

Staff with patient in ambulance

Cases of scarlet fever are on the rise across England, with Public Health England reporting more than 3,500 new cases since September – almost a 50% rise in the same period for the last 10 years. This season’s outbreak is the highest since 1989.

Scarlet fever is an infectious disease caused by group A streptococcus bacterium. Typically there are seasonal rises in scarlet fever between December and April each year, and this most recent increase is likely to be part of that cycle.

The first symptoms often include a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Between 12 and 48 hours after this, a characteristic rash develops. Although it’s more common in children, adults are also susceptible and symptoms usually clear up after a week following a course of antibiotics.

Public Health England is recommending that that people with scarlet fever symptoms see their GP. Once children or adults are diagnosed with scarlet fever they are strongly advised to stay at home until at least 24-hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid passing on the infection. However, Trust clinicians should be aware of the outbreak in case any patients present with relevant symptoms.

Further information is available on the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) website; the clinical knowledge summary on scarlet fever contains further details on presentation and advised treatment. It should be noted that extra care should be taken with high risk patients when considering conveyance to hospital.

Scarlet fever is mainly a childhood disease and is most common from two to eight-years-old. It was once a very dangerous infection, but has now become much less serious. There is currently no vaccine for scarlet fever.

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