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GPs urged to be vigilant for scarlet fever as number of cases rises

Public Health England (PHE) is urging GPs to be vigilant for symptoms of scarlet fever, after recording a rise in cases that is higher than average for the season.

PHE said there were 1,250 cases in the first six weeks of the year, with 300 cases reported in one week alone. It comes as, at 14,000, last year saw the highest number of cases reported in one year since the late 1960s, after several warnings made last spring.

PHE said that while it was not unusual for incidences of scarlet fever to increase at this time of year, leading up to a high season between March and April, the number of cases currently being reported was above what was typical and even higher than last year.

For example:

  • The Cheshire and Merseyside region saw 97 cases in the first six weeks of 2015 compared to just five in the same period last year
  • Yorkshire and Humberside had 158 cases this year compared to 95 cases last year
  • Cases in London jumped from 67 last year to 115

Although infection is more common in children, PHE advised adults of all ages can also develop scarlet fever.

PHE head of streptococcal infection surveillance Dr Theresa Lamagni said GPs should promptly notify local health protection teams to enable quick response to outbreaks.

She said: ‘As we enter into high season for scarlet fever, we ask GPs and other frontline medical staff to be mindful of the current high levels of scarlet fever activity when assessing patients.

‘Prompt notification of cases to local health protection teams is critical to enable local monitoring and rapid response to outbreaks.’

According to NHS Choices, initial symptoms of scarlet fever typically include sore throat and a high temperature followed by red blotching that can develop into a potentially itchy ‘pink-red rash’ spreading across the body which ‘feels like sandpaper to touch’ and ‘looks like sunburn’.

PHE said scarlet fever usually clears up after a week and in most cases remain reasonably mild, providing a course of antibiotics is completed to reduce the risk of complications.