GP analysis of figures from Public Health England (PHE) shows that 1,178 new scarlet fever cases were recorded in England from 23-29 March – the highest weekly total for 33 years.
For the same week last year, 883 cases were reported.
PHE warned of ‘substantial numbers of people’ being affected in March, saying this was the second season in a row with exceptionally high disease levels.
‘GPs as well as schools and nurseries should be mindful of the current high levels of scarlet fever and promptly inform local health protection teams if they become aware of cases, especially if more than one child is affected,’ said Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance.
GPs inundated with appointments
The public has been urged to see their GP if a child shows any signs of scarlet fever, including sore throat, headache, fever and a characteristic rash.
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the GPC, told GP that the scarlet fever alert has seen GPs inundated with appointments.
‘Many patients are worried that their child’s rash might be scarlet fever, so we’re seeing many presentations of rashes that are nothing to do with scarlet fever but are adding to GP workload,’ he said.
‘It’s part and parcel of what GPs do - to review children with rashes and provide a good service to their patients – but it highlights the workload pressures GPs are under.’
The reasons behind the rise in scarlet fever cases are unclear, although incidence of the disease is thought to follow natural long-term cycles.
The peak season for the disease is thought to be March to April, and figures for 30 March to 5 April dropped to 694 cases in England.