PARENTS in St Helens are being urged to look out for symptoms of scarlet fever among their children, after an increase in cases locally and nationally.
Public Health England (PHE) has received increased reports of the disease and advised parents should be aware of the signs.
In the past four weeks, 868 notifications have been received in England, compared to 591 for the equivalent period last year.
Although the sharp increase over the past month has not been a problem regionally, figures over a seven month period show a rise.
Regional breakdowns (Cheshire and Merseyside) for scarlet fever seasonal activity, between September 2013 and March 2014 were 313 compared to 189 in the corresponding period a year earlier.
In St Helens there were 35 cases over the past year as opposed to 24 the year before.
Around 90 per cent of scarlet fever cases occur in children under 10, and it is most common among children aged two to eight, particularly among four-year-olds. Adults can also catch the disease, but such cases are rarer.
• Sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting
• A characteristic fine red rash after 12-48 hours, on the chest and stomach, rapidly spreading to other areas. It feels like sandpaper to touch
• Fever over 38.3C or higher is common
• White coating on the tongue, which peels a few days later leaving the tongue looking red and swollen
• Swollen glands in the neck
• Feeling tired and unwell
• Flushed red face but pale around the mouth
• Peeling skin on fingertips, toes and groin, as the rash fades.
Public Health England (PHE) has reported significant increases in scarlet fever cases, with a total of 3,548 new cases nationally since the season began in September 2013.
This is compared to an average of 1,420 cases reported for the same period in the previous 10 years.
The last season to have this level of scarlet fever activity was 1989/1990.
Scarlet fever is an infectious disease caused by group A streptococcus bacterium.
Typically there are seasonal rises in scarlet fever between December and April each year, and also a cycle of increases and decreases in incidence that repeats over a period of several years. This most recent increase is likely to be part of that cycle.
Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: “PHE recommends that people with symptoms of scarlet fever see their GP.
“Once children or adults are diagnosed with scarlet fever we strongly advise them to stay at home until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid passing on the infection.
“PHE publishes guidance for schools where infections can spread easily. Where outbreaks occur, local health protection teams are on hand to provide a rapid response, effective outbreak management and authoritative advice.”
It was once a very dangerous infection, but has now become much less serious.
Antibiotic treatment is given to minimise the risk of complications. There is currently no vaccine.