A “substantial increase” in the number of cases of scarlet fever being reported this year has been highlighted by Public Health England, which is urging health practitioners to be “mindful” when assessing patients.
The number of cases of the bacterial illness so far this season is almost three times higher than the same period during the previous five years.
“There has been a notable increase in scarlet fever cases when compared to last season”
PHE’s latest report monitoring the illness, published on Friday, showed there had been 11,982 cases of scarlet fever since mid-September 2017. This compared to an average of 4,480 for the same period over the previous five years.
In the most recent week, between 12 and 18 February, there were 1,267 cases reported.
The number of reported cases are now approaching the high-point last seen in 2015-16, when there was a surge in reports of scarlet fever in March of that season.
The reason for the increase this year is still being investigated, but PHE noted more awareness of the illness could be behind the rise in cases due to the fact scarlet fever is a clinical diagnosis and not usually confirmed by laboratory testing.
Scarlet fever is usually a mild illness and PHE is advising parents to be on the lookout for symptoms, which include a sore throat, headache and fever with a characteristic fine, pinkish or red rash with a sandpapery feel.
“Greater awareness and improved reporting practices may have contributed to this increase”
Early treatment with antibiotics is important and can help reduce the risk of complications such as pneumonia and the spread of the infection, it added.
It is more common among children under the age of 10, and anyone diagnosed with the illness is advised to stay at home until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid spreading the infection to others.
PHE said it was urging GPs, paediatricians, and other health practitioners to be mindful when assessing patients and to promptly notify local health protection teams of cases and outbreaks.
Nick Phin, deputy director at Public Health England, said: “It’s not uncommon to see a rise in cases of scarlet fever at this time of year. Scarlet fever is not usually a serious illness and can be treated with antibiotics to reduce the risk of complications and spread to others.
“We are monitoring the situation closely and remind parents to be aware of the symptoms of scarlet fever and to contact their GP for assessment if they think their child might have it.”
“Whilst there has been a notable increase in scarlet fever cases when compared to last season, greater awareness and improved reporting practices may have contributed to this increase,” he added.