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Scarlet fever cases reach 20-year high

Scarlet fever has significantly increased across England, with a total of 3,548 new cases since September 2013.

Public Health England (PHE) has reported significant increases in scarlet fever cases across England, with a total of 3,548 since September 2013, compared to an average of 1,420 cases at the same point over the past 10 years. 

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 also a cycle of increases and decreases in incidence that repeats over a period of several years. This most recent increase is likely to be part of that cycle.

Nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals should be mindful of the current increase when treating patients, PHE has said. 

The first symptoms of scarlet fever often include: 

 - A sore throat. 

-  Headache.

 - Fever.

 - Nausea and vomiting. 

Between 12 to 48 hours after this, a characteristic rash develops. Cases are more common in children although adults can also develop scarlet fever. Symptoms usually clear up after a week and the majority of cases can be treated with a course of antibiotics to reduce risk of complications.

The last time confirmed cases of scarlet fever were this high was in 1989/90, with 4,042 cases over the period. 

Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE's head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: "PHE recommends that people with symptoms of scarlet fever see their GP. 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.

"PHE publishes guidance for schools where infections can spread easily. Where outbreaks occur, local health protection teams are on hand to provide a rapid response, effective outbreak management and authoritative advice."

Scarlet fever is mainly a childhood disease and is most common between the ages of 2 and 8 years. It was once a very dangerous infection, but has now become much less serious. Antibiotic treatment should be given to minimise the risk of complications.

There is currently no vaccine for scarlet fever.