Scarlet fever: increased cases and what to look out for

Staff with patient on stretcher at accident and emergency

Scarlet fever is a disease spread through close contact with people carrying the organism (often in the throat) or indirect contact with objects and surfaces contaminated with the bacterium that causes scarlet fever.

The latest data from Public Health England (PHE) shows a steep increase in scarlet fever notifications across the country, with a total of 6157 new cases since the season began in September 2015. This total could rise as we reach the peak season, which occurs between late March and mid-April.

The increase in cases has occurred over the past three years. Notifications of more severe infection caused by the same bacterium (group A streptococcus) are also showing a slight increase in incidence in recent weeks and will be monitored closely as the season progresses.

What to look out for:

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. Individuals who think they or their child may have scarlet fever should be encouraged to seek advice from their GP without delay as prompt antibiotic treatment is needed.

Symptoms usually clear up after a week. Potential complications include ear infection, throat abscess and pneumonia. Patients who do not show signs of improvement within a few days of starting treatment should seek urgent medical advice.

As scarlet fever is highly contagious, children or adults diagnosed with scarlet fever are advised to stay off school or work until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid passing on the infection.

For more information on the increase, please click here to the PHE website.

Published 5th April, 2016

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