Brits hit by second disease as cases of highly contagious scarlet fever sweep UK

The number of scarlet fever cases reported this winter has increased sharply on last year – and Brits have been warned to be on the lookout for symptoms of the deadly disease.

Daily Star Online can reveal that at least 10,433 cases have been reported by Public Health England so far this winter, compared to 7,789 for the same period the previous year.

So far in 2020 there have been 5,792 cases of scarlet fever, compared to 3,889 cases reported at this stage last year – an increase of nearly 49%. Data below showing which areas have the most cases reveals that region is currently the North West.

News of a spike in cases couldn't have come at a worse time with the NHS facing unprecedented demand as the UK battles against the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Scarlet fever is often characterised by a pinkish rash which usually develops on the chest and stomach after initial symptoms which can include a sore throat, headache and a high temperature – much like coronavirus.

Children aged five to 15 are most prone to contracting the bacteria which is highly contagious through touch, coughs and sneezes.

Most recover but it can lead to more serious complications and can be fatal in rare cases.

There were devastating epidemics in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but it is less common these days.

On coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that 10,000 people in the UK had probably been affected by the disease so far.

He then told Brits on Monday that they should avoid pubs, clubs and theatres to help prevent the spread of the disease.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty said the next few weeks and months will be "extraordinarily difficult" for the health service.

He also told all over-70s, pregnant women and adults who would normally ask to have a flu vaccine to "avoid all social contact" to ensure they don't get coronavirus.

Click on your region to find out how many cases have been reported:

(Number of scarlet fever infection notification rate by English region during winter 2018/19)

Figures show the North West is the region worst affected by deadly scarlet fever with 1,743 reported cases.

Yorkshire and the Humber had the second highest number of cases (1,002) and the South East came in third with 959 reported cases of scarlet fever.

Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s Head of Streptococcal Infection Surveillance, said: “Parents can play a key role in recognising when their child needs to be seen by their GP.

"Early signs to look out for are a sore throat, headache and fever with the characteristic pinkish red sandpapery rash appearing within a day or two, typically on the chest and stomach but then spreading to other parts of the body.

"If concerned that you or your child may have scarlet fever, you should contact your GP immediately, as prompt antibiotic treatment is needed.

“Symptoms usually clear up after a week and the majority of cases will not involve complications as long as the recommended course of antibiotics is completed.”

Symptoms of scarlet fever

The first signs of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature of 38C or above, a sore throat and swollen neck glands (a large lump on the side of your neck).

A rash appears a few days later.

The rash feels like sandpaper and starts on the chest and tummy. On lighter skin it looks pink or red. On darker skin it can be more difficult to see, but you can still feel it.

A white coating also appears on the tongue. This peels, leaving it red and swollen ("strawberry tongue").

The rash does not appear on the face, but the cheeks can be flushed.

The symptoms are the same for children and adults, although scarlet fever is much rarer in adults.

See a GP if you or your child:

  • have scarlet fever symptoms
  • do not get better in a week (after seeing a GP), especially if your child has recently had chickenpox
  • are ill again weeks after scarlet fever has cleared up – this can be a sign of a complication, such as rheumatic fever
  • are feeling unwell and have been in contact with someone who has scarlet fever
  • Scarlet fever is very infectious. Check with a GP before you go in. They may suggest a phone consultation.

Scarlet fever was very common during the Victorian era and killed more than 20,000 children a year at its peak, but advances in modern medicine and better hygiene practices mean it's much rarer nowadays.

If you think that your child might have scarlet fever, contact your GP or ring NHS 111.

The health expert will then issue advice on how to proceed.

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed 53 people in England have now died after testing positive for the coronavirus, which he described as an "invisible killer".

Mr Whitty has warned Brits they are in "for the long haul on this" as the coronavirus pandemic grips the country.

Reported cases by area

East of England – 654

East Midlands – 860

London – 944

North East – 361

North West – 1,743

South East – 959

South West – 622

West Midlands – 644

Yorkshire and the Humber – 1,002

  • Coronavirus

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