Scarlet fever isn’t a thing of the past, but rather a troubling public health issue in the United Kingdom. Cases of the bacterial infection are on the rise. During the period between September 2017 and March 2018, there were more than 15,000 cases of the disease reported to Public Health England (PHE.)
The spike in cases in the last few months is a continuation of a trend that’s been happening for the past few years. In 2013 there were about 4,700 cases reported in the UK. That number tripled in just one year, rising to 15, 637 in 2014. The numbers topped out at a 50 year high in 2016 of more than 20, 000 cases of the childhood illness
Nick Phin, deputy director at Public Health England, explained in a statement, " It’s not uncommon to see a rise in cases of scarlet fever at this time of year. Scarlet fever is not usually a serious illness and can be treated with antibiotics to reduce the risk of complications and spread to others. We are monitoring the situation closely and remind parents to be aware of the symptoms of scarlet fever and to contact their GP for assessment if they think their child might have it. Whilst there has been a notable increase in scarlet fever cases when compared to last season, greater awareness and improved reporting practices may have contributed to this increase.”
Scarlet fever is caused by group A Streptococcus pyogenes, which also causes strep throat. Although anyone who gets strep throat can go on to develop scarlet fever, it occurs most frequently in children under the age of 10. It’s highly contagious and is spread via airborne droplets as well as contact with surfaces like doorknobs and countertops that harbor saliva or mucus from an infected person. Healthcare providers are encouraged to educate their patients on any fever or rash that seems suspicious. The disease normally begins with a high fever and a red rash that spreads from the face and neck to the rest of the body. Another common sign is a bright red “strawberry tongue” and white spots in the mouth and throat.
Fortunately, scarlet fever can be treated with a course of antibiotics and is usually not serious. Left untreated it can lead to organ failure, kidney damage and cardiac complications. Rheumatic fever is an autoimmune condition that is caused by scarlet fever. Patients who develop rheumatic fever will have issues with heart disease, skin problems and cognitive and brain deficits.
In addition to the public statements warning of the increase, guidelines have been issued by the government on how schools and daycare centers need to manage possible outbreaks. That information can be found here. The video below also has additional information.