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Scarlet fever circulating in England: Tips to avoid the bacterial infection

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More than 12,000 cases of scarlet fever were reported between 1 January and 24 March 2024

With scarlet fever currently circulating in England, the UK Health Security Agency (UKSHA) has urged parents to remain vigilant for potential symptoms in children.

Also known as scarlatina, it is an infectious disease triggered by group A strep bacteria that can lead to symptoms such as fever, a sandpapery rash, sore throat and swollen tonsils.

The latest data published by the UKHSA showed that a total of 19,528 cases of scarlet fever were reported in the 2023/24 season, of which 12,176 cases occurring between 1 January and 24 March 2024.

While the number of cases recorded this year is lower than those recorded during the same period in 2023, which totaled 15,933 cases, it exceeds the average for the previous five years.

“Scarlet fever is a common childhood illness, although it can affect anyone of any age,” said Dr Theresa Lamagni at UKHSA.

Parents are advised to contact their GP practice or NHS111 when their GP is unavailable, if they suspect they or their child are experiencing symptoms of scarlet fever.

Dr Lamagni noted: “Scarlet fever is usually mild and can be treated with antibiotics – these will help reduce the risk of complications and limit spread of the infection to others.”

The bacteria responsible for scarlet fever can, in very rare instances, cause a more serious infection, called invasive group A strep, but in very rare cases.

Children with severe scarlet fever may exhibit symptoms such as difficulty breathing (including grunting noises or their tummy sucking under their ribs), pauses in breathing, bluish or grayish discoloration of the skin, tongue, or lips, as well as lethargy and difficulty remaining awake or waking up.

The UKHSA has advised parents to call 999 or go to A&E if they notice these symptoms in their child.

How to avoid spreading scarlet fever

Dr Lamagni has shared some important tips to stop the infection from spreading to other people. These include:

  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly
  • Keep your home well-ventilated
  • If diagnosed with scarlet fever, stay away from nursery, school or work for 24 hours after starting antibiotic treatment.
  • Avoid visiting vulnerable people whilst you’re feeling unwell.

The health agency reported an unparalleled decline in scarlet fever cases during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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