News story

Scarlet fever: the beginning of a new season

Early indications from the current 2014 to 2015 season indicate low levels of activity but remains higher than expected for this time of year.

Scarlet fever

Following substantial increases in scarlet fever earlier in the year, early indications from Public Health England (PHE) shows the current 2014 to 2015 season indicating low levels of infection, but they are higher than normal for this time of year.

Levels of scarlet fever, an infectious disease caused by bacteria, are typically low during the autumn and early winter but are expected to gradually increase over the coming months.

Around 100 cases of scarlet fever are being reported each week across England which is just above what is typically expected for this time of the year. This could reflect either improved diagnosis or notification practices around the country following the widespread campaigns earlier in the year. However, it may also signal a continued elevation in disease incidence and as such, close monitoring and rapid response to potential outbreaks remains essential.

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

The first symptoms of scarlet fever often include a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Between 12 to 48 hours after this, a characteristic rash develops. Cases are more common in children although adults can also develop scarlet fever. Symptoms usually clear up after a week and the majority of cases can be treated with a course of antibiotics to reduce risk of complications.

If you develop any of these symptoms you should contact your GP. NHS Choices also provides helpful information on symptoms of infection including photographs of the rash.

With antibiotic treatment, scarlet fever is not usually severe. 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 adults of all ages can also 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 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.

PHE has developed guidance on the management of scarlet fever outbreaks in schools nurseries and childcare settings.

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

More information on scarlet fever.

Published 21 November 2014