Cases of scarlet fever and strep A are slightly raised but within normal seasonal levels so far this cold season, public health officials have said.
A report from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said since February patterns of both scarlet fever and invasive group A streptococcus disease have been as expected which has continued into this winter according to laboratory notifications.
High levels of strep A infection last December caused chaos as GPs were overwhelmed with demand, some having to cancel routine appointments. A cautionary approach amidst the rising numbers of severely ill children also led to antibiotic shortages.
Overall, 61,442 notifications of scarlet fever were seen in 2022/23, the UKHSA report said, with a pre-Christmas peak of 10,069 notifications in the first week of December.
A similarly high level of invasive group A streptococcus disease was reported with 4,412 cases last year, UKHSA said.
By comparison so far this season there have been 1,233 notifications of scarlet fever and 216 invasive group A streptococcus infections – both slightly higher than usual but within what would be expected for the time of year, the report noted.
It is thought that reduced exposure to strep A during the pandemic led to the high levels of infection seen last year due to overall susceptibility of the population.
The season was unusual for the early rise in cases – which is usually seen in the spring – and the high numbers of children affected with invasive group A streptococcus disease which normally is more common in older adults.
Careful monitoring of cases is ongoing and prompt treatment of scarlet fever with antibiotics is recommended to reduce risk of possible complications and limit onward transmission, UKHSA advised.
GPs and other frontline clinical staff are also being reminded of the increased risk of invasive disease among household contacts of scarlet fever cases.
Clinicians should continue to maintain a high index of suspicion in relevant patients for invasive disease as early recognition facilitates prompt initiation of specific and supportive therapy for patients with iGAS infection, UKHSA added.
Earlier this summer GP leaders asked governments and public health bodies to consider the effects of sending public health messages around single diseases, after the Strep A campaign caused ‘widespread panic and unprecedented demand’.
During the UK LMC conference, they called for a ‘comprehensive’ analysis of the effects of national communications surrounding the Strep A outbreak in December last year.
Dr Theresa Lamagni, UKHSA senior epidemiologist said: ‘Scarlet fever and invasive Group A strep are currently at low levels but starting to show slight increases in line with what we would normally see at this time of year.
‘Numbers of cases are currently below this same period last year and considerably lower than the high levels seen last December.’
She added that the combination of flu and scarlet fever can make children very unwell, so parents are encouraged to take up the offer of the flu nasal spray to help keep their child healthy.