There has been an increase in the number of cases of scarlet fever in England and Wales, with 17,586 cases in 2015. This is the highest number of recorded case since 1967 when 19,305 cases were reported. It is unclear why there has been a rise in scarlet fever in recent years, but (PHE) is alerting all health practitioners to be mindful of the disease when assessing patients. Around 600 cases are being flagged up each week in England, and further increases are expected as the infection comes into it the peak season – which typically occurs between late March and mid-April. Scarlet fever is most common in children under ten years old.
The last three years has seen a significant rise in scarlet fever; in 2013 there were just 4,642 cases reported in England and Wales, but this then jumped to 15,625 cases in 2014 and 17,586 cases in 2015. The reason for the sudden jump in cases is unclear; test samples have been collated from different parts of the country and experts believe no new strain of scarlet fever has appeared.
Scarlet fever is caused by bacteria known as group A streptococcus, it can be spread through close contact with people carrying the organism, through coughs and sneezes and contact with objects and surfaces contaminated with the bacterium. Scarlet fever was once a dangerous infection, but thanks to advances in medicines and antibiotics it is generally less serious, although complications can arise.
Typical symptoms include; sore throat, high temperature, headache and a characteristic red rash on the chest and stomach, which can spread to other parts of the body such as the cheeks. The rash also has a rough sandpapery feel to it. The red rash caused by the disease is why it has traditionally been referred to as scarlet fever. Antibiotics can be used to treat the disease and minimise risks of additional complications. Doctors are urging that anyone who has symptoms of scarlet fever seek medical attention.
Concerns for measles outbreak in SE England
Along with a rise in scarlet fever there are also concerns about the numbers of measles cases in SE England and London. Public Health England has detected 20 cases in the region since February, compared with 91 in all of England in the whole of last year. So far, there have been 12 cases in London, 3 in Cambridge, 3 in Hertfordshire and 2 in Essex. Most cases were in young adults, aged between 20 to 30, who needed hospital treatment. Doctors are advising people to ensure they are vaccinated to prevent a repeat of the 2013 Swansea outbreak in which 1,219 people were infected.
Measles tends to be more serious in adults than children and is highly contagious so can spread among people who have not been immunised against the disease. Older people who have not been vaccinated have been urged to get vaccinated and anyone who has not yet received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine should contact their GP.
Up till now there has been little spread of the infection to school-age children. With current levels of the MMR vaccination at record levels it suggests there is a high level of protection in those age groups, due to high uptake of the MMR vaccine.