GPs put on scarlet fever alert as cases hit record levels for third year

GPs have been warned that a scarlet fever epidemic is ongoing in England, with officials revealing that the number of incidences looks set to exceed record-breaking levels for the third year running.

Public Health England (PHE) officials warned of a ‘steep increase’ in scarlet fever notifications across England since the disease’s current season began in September.

Close monitoring, rapid and decisive response to potential outbreaks and early treatment with a course of antibiotics is ‘essential’ to tackling the disease, it said in an alert to GPs and other health practitioners.

Around 600 cases are being notified a week at present, with figures set to climb higher towards peak season, which runs from late March to mid-April.

Some 609 cases were confirmed last week, compared to 576 for the same week last year – a 6% rise. 2015 went on to exhibit the highest levels in over 33 years at peak season.

The highly infectious disease, caused by Streptococcus pyogenes or group A streptococci bacteria, occurs most commonly affects children between two and eight years old. Symptoms include a rash, sore throat, flushed cheeks and swollen tongue.

Scarlet fever outbreak

PHE has also reported slight increase in incidence of other severe infections caused by group A streptococcus in recent weeks. It says it will continue to monitor the situation closely throughout the season.

Unusually high numbers of scarlet fever cases were first noted in 2014, which were at the time were the highest recorded since the 1989/90 season.

Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: ‘Individuals who think they or their child may have scarlet fever should seek advice from their GP without delay as prompt antibiotic treatment is needed.

‘Symptoms usually clear up after a week and the majority of cases will resolve without complication as long as the recommended course of antibiotics is completed.

‘As scarlet fever is highly contagious, children or adults diagnosed with scarlet fever are advised to stay off school or work until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid passing on the infection.’

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