News story

Scarlet fever: beginning of a new season

Early indications for 2015 to 2016 suggest we may be entering a third season of high numbers of scarlet fever infections.

Scarlet fever pathogen

Following the significant increase in scarlet fever cases over the last 2 years, early indications for 2015 to 2016 suggest we may be entering a third season of high numbers of infections. So far this season, 2155 scarlet fever reports have been made across England since the second week of September (weeks 37 to 50 of 2015).

Around 250 cases of scarlet fever are currently being notified each week across England, remaining similar to last year but higher than previous years. Levels of scarlet fever are typically low during the autumn and early winter, increasing over the next few months and reaching highest levels in March and April.

Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance said:

We can expect to see increasing numbers of cases of scarlet fever as the season progresses over the course of the winter and spring. Given the high number of patients reported to have scarlet fever last season, we are keeping a very close eye on national and local notifications.

Individuals should be mindful of the symptoms of scarlet fever, which include a sore throat, headache and fever with a sandpapery, fine, pink rash developing within 1 to 2 days of first symptoms. If you or your child develops any of these symptoms you should contact your GP. NHS Choices also provides helpful information on symptoms of infection including photographs of the rash.

Whilst scarlet fever is not usually a severe illness it should be treated with antibiotics to reduce the risk of further complications and to minimise the risk of spread of the infection to others. Children or adults diagnosed with scarlet fever are advised to stay at home until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid spreading the infection to others.

Scarlet fever is mainly a childhood disease, most common between the ages of 2 and 8 years, although children and adults of all ages can develop it.

Schools, nurseries and childcare settings can play an important role in controlling the spread of infections by embedding good hand hygiene practice within daily routines for both pupils and staff. They should alert their local PHE Health Protection Teams if an outbreak of scarlet fever is suspected. Children and adults should be encouraged to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough and sneeze and to wash their hands after using or disposing of tissues.

The latest information on scarlet fever will be reported in the Health Protection Report with statements issued when new information emerges.

Read our Scarlet Fever pages for more information.

The PHE guidance on the management of scarlet fever outbreaks in schools nurseries and childcare settings is available on GOV.UK.

Published 18 December 2015