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High scarlet fever levels expected for third consecutive year

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Levels of scarlet fever this autumn are indicating a third year of high numbers of cases, according to public health officials.

There has been a significant increase in infection rates over the past two years and reports of the condition since September are mirroring those seen last year, said Public Health England.

So far this season, there have been 2,155 cases of scarlet fever across England since September, with around 250 cases now being reported each week.

“We can expect to see increasing numbers of cases of scarlet fever as the season progresses over the course of the winter and spring”

Dr Theresa Lamagni

But levels of scarlet fever are typically low during the autumn and early winter and usually increase to reach highest levels in March and April, PHE warned.

The body said it was keeping a “very close eye” on national and local reports.

It noted schools, nurseries and childcare settings had an important role to play in preventing the spread of the disease, which is most common in children aged between two and eight years.

The condition has symptoms including a sore throat, headache, fever and a fine, pink rash developing within the first two days of symptoms and is treated with antibiotics.

Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: “We can expect to see increasing numbers of cases of scarlet fever as the season progresses over the course of the winter and spring.

“Whilst scarlet fever is not usually a severe illness it should be treated with antibiotics to reduce the risk of further complications”

Dr Theresa Lamagni

“Given the high number of patients reported to have scarlet fever last season, we are keeping a very close eye on national and local notifications.”

“Whilst scarlet fever is not usually a severe illness it should be treated with antibiotics to reduce the risk of further complications and to minimise the risk of spread of the infection to others. 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 spreading the infection to others,” she added.

Last spring, numbers of scarlet fever cases had reached more than 300 per week by February 2015.

The year before there was an “extraordinary rise” in infection rates. Nearly 7,200 cases were recorded between September 2013 and April 2014, compared to an average of 1,800 for the same period over the previous 10 years.

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