MORE than 140 people have been diagnosed with scarlet fever in St Helens this year, with a number of cases affecting schools in the borough.

The figures, which are published by Public Health England, reveal how many people have been diagnosed with the bacterial illness each week. There have been 27 reports this month so far.

Scarlet fever is a contagious infection that mostly affects young children. It is easily treated with antibiotics.

The first signs can be flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature of 38C or above and swollen neck glands. A rash appears a few days later.

It is very infectious and can easily spread to other people by sneezing, coughing and sharing clothes cutlery, cups, towels, bedding or baths.

Overall 143 cases have been reported this year, with nine reported just last week.

March saw 67 reported cases and February saw 36 across St Helens.

A spokesman for St Helens Council said: “No schools have been closed this year due to scarlet fever, though there have been some minor outbreaks.

“Where cases are confirmed by health professionals, schools liaise directly with Public Health England (PHE), who are the advisory body.

“PHE advice is that spread can be controlled by affected children avoiding school until they complete a course of antibiotics, emphasis on good hygiene to pupils and parents, and a thorough cleaning of school facilities and equipment.

“All decisions relating to Scarlet Fever are made governing bodies and head teachers of individual schools.

“This year there has been a national increase in reported cases, but in line with seasonal patterns, we expect to see numbers drop significantly over the next couple of months.”

Dr Evdokia Dardamissis, consultant in communicable disease control at PHE North West, added: “We are urging parents to look out for the symptoms of scarlet fever such as fever, sore throat and a rash after seeing a significant upsurge in cases this year.

“The good news is that over the Easter holidays we have seen a slight decline in cases, this may indicate that activity has peaked.

“Scarlet fever, which mainly affects young children, is not usually a serious illness and can be easily treated with the appropriate antibiotics to reduce the risk of complications and spread to others.

“We encourage parents to contact their GP or NHS 111 if they spot symptoms of scarlet fever or have concerns.”