Scarlet fever cases last week exceeded all previous records, GPs warned

GPs have been told to prescribe antibiotics to help stem the current scarlet fever outbreak, as public health experts confirm the number of cases rose higher last week than in any other since records began 34 years ago in 1982.

Over 1,300 cases of scarlet fever were confirmed in patients in England last week - the highest number in a single week since records began, according to Public Health England (PHE).

This means over 10,500 confirmed cases have been confirmed so far in the current season for the disease, which officially began in September.

The disease usually reaches peak levels around this time of year starting mid-March and lasting throughout April.

GPs are advised to prescribe antibiotics to help treat the disease, which typically strikes children between two and eight years old.

PHE has warned that current trends suggest the whole 2016 season will see more cases than the previously record-breaking levels of 2015.

This would mark the third consecutive year in which scarlet fever levels have surpassed all previously recorded data.

Scarlet fever

Some 1,200 more cases have been confirmed so far this year compared to last year, which had seen 9,400 by this point.

A total of 17,600 cases went on to be recorded in the 2015 season, building on from the 15,600 confirmed cases in 2014.

Cases have particularly increased in areas across the south of England, with London, Kent, Hertfordshire, Essex and others experiencing hundreds more cases than last year.

Meanwhile, cases appear to have fallen further north in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and Manchester.

The figures have been coupled with an increase in invasive disease caused by the same bacterium group A streptococcus (GAS) which causes scarlet fever, which include bloodstream infection and pneumonia.

Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: ‘As we reach peak season for scarlet fever, health practitioners should be particularly mindful of the current high levels of scarlet fever when assessing patients.

‘Close monitoring, rapid and decisive response to potential outbreaks and early treatment of scarlet fever with an appropriate antibiotic remains essential, especially given the potential complications associated with group A streptococcal infections. Scarlet fever should be treated with antibiotics to reduce risk of complications.’

Photo: iStock

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