Public Health England (PHE) has reported a “significant” rise in the number of scarlet fever cases, with the vast majority occurring in children.
Some 3,548 new cases have been recorded in England, more than double the normal average for this period, according to a report from the public health body.
Over the last 10 years there was an average of 1,420 scarlet fever case reported between September and March.
PHE reported that 95% of new cases of the disease were in the under-18 age group.
“The last season to have this level of scarlet fever activity was 1989-90 when 4,042 notifications were received,” it said.
The highly contagious bacterial illness causes a distinctive pink-red rash that feels like sandpaper to the touch.
The itchy rash can spread to many areas of the body, including ears, neck and chest.
High temperature, vomiting, a flushed face and a red, swollen tongue are also symptoms of the illness.
Scarlet fever is usually contracted following a sore throat or skin infection and is most prevalent between the ages of two and eight.
It is spread through airborne droplets from a infected person’s coughs and sneezes or through touching their skin.
The infection can also be passed by sharing contaminated towels, baths, clothes, bedding, cups and utensils.
“The majority of cases can be treated with a course of antibiotics to reduce risk of complications”
Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: “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.”
She added: “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.”
At present there is no vaccine for scarlet fever.