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GPs asked to spot scarlet fever as case numbers rise

2.5 times higher rate of infections than a year ago

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 09 March 2018

GPs and parents are being asked to be vigilant over spotting signs of scarlet fever as numbers of cases are rising significantly in England, according to Public Health England (PHE).

According to the latest Health Protection Report published today, there were 11,982 cases of scarlet fever reported since mid-September 2017, compared to an average of 4,480 for the same period over the last five years.

There were 1,267 cases reported for the most recent week of 12 to 18 February.

The highly contagious, seasonal bacterial illness that mainly affects children, is not uncommon for this time of year, but numbers of cases are high.

PHE said the increasing trend was in line with usual patterns, although cases were currently higher than those reported at this point in the last four seasons.

Scarlet fever is a clinical diagnosis and not usually confirmed by laboratory testing so the activity being seen could be due to increased awareness and reporting of scarlet fever, said the agency, although the exact cause was still being investigated.

Symptoms of scarlet fever included a sore throat, headache and fever with a characteristic fine, pinkish or red rash with a sandpapery feel.

If parents believed they could see signs of scarlet fever, they should contact their GP or NHS 111, said PHE, because early treatment with antibiotics was important and could help reduce the risk of complications such as pneumonia and the spread of the infection.

Nick Phin, deputy director at PHE, said: “It’s not uncommon to see a rise in cases of scarlet fever at this time of year. 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.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, said: “Scarlet fever used to be a lot more common than it is now, but GPs are noticing more cases than in previous years at the moment. If a patient thinks that they, or their child, might have symptoms, they should seek medical assistance.”

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