this dangerous 19th century childhood disease is spreading fast

Scarlet fever is a bacterial microbe that causes a characteristic red rash and mainly affects children.

Health experts have warned parents about the signs of the highly contagious disease, scarlet fever, after recently learning that the number of cases has hit an all-time high since the 1960s. Here’s what you need to know.

80% of scarlet fever cases affect children under the age of 10, and these cases are increasing.

Parents are on high alert as the number of cases has skyrocketed across the country.


In the week to April 1, 1,624 cases were recorded.

And over the past three months, cases of the disease have skyrocketed, with reports of scarlet fever 2.3 times higher than during the same 13-week period in 2017, 2016 and 2015.

Between January and March this year, 15,500 cases of scarlet fever were recorded in England, double last year’s figure and the highest since 1982, according to Public Health England (PHE).

childhood illness

Nick Phin, Deputy Director of the National Infection Service at PHE, said: While it is not uncommon to see an increase in scarlet fever cases at this time of year, the numbers we have seen this year have not not been seen since 1982, when PHE took over the collection of notifiable disease data.

And in the winter months, 11,981 cases were recorded, compared to 4,480 in the same five-month period twelve months earlier.

Scarlet fever is feared to reach epidemic proportions, with the number of reported cases being the highest since the 1960s.

Dr Theresa Lamagni, from Public Health England, said: While current rates are a far cry from those seen in the early 1900s, the scale of the recent upsurge is greater than any documented over the past century.

Scarlet fever bacterial infection, which causes a characteristic pink rash, is more common in children, with 89% of recent cases occurring in children aged 10 or younger.

This contagious virus is transmitted through the air and the bacteria can even be carried on uninfected people.

scarlet fever disease

What is scarlet fever?

This contagious disease is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, which can manifest on the skin and throat.

It usually affects children between the ages of 5 and 15 and often results in fever and a large red rash on the body.

From September to the end of January 2017, 369 cases were recorded in the West Midlands, compared to 309 for the same period last year.

Meanwhile, in London cases have risen from 336 to 386 and in the North West, 546 from 500, over the same period.

scarlet fever virus

The disease is so contagious that it spreads easily in the event of an epidemic.

You can get scarlet fever by breathing in bacteria from airborne droplets, touching the skin of an infected person, or sharing contaminated towels, tubs, clothes, or bedding.

It is possible to catch it from people carrying the virus, but who are not necessarily infected themselves.

What are the symptoms of scarlet fever?

The first warning signs of this bacteria are a sore throat or skin infection, including blisters or impetigo.

People with scarlet fever may also experience headaches, high temperatures, flushed cheeks, and swollen tongue.

A day or two after these first symptoms, the most visible sign of the disease appears.

A red rash and dry tongue are some of the symptoms of scarlet fever.

Scarlet fever causes a large pink or red rash on the skin that is often itchy and looks like sandpaper.

In addition to this, the NHS outlines other symptoms to watch out for.

  • swollen neck glands
    loss of appetite
    nausea or vomiting
    red lines in the folds of the body, such as the armpits, which may persist for a few days after the rash disappears.
    a white coating on the tongue, which comes off a few days later, leaving the tongue red and swollen (this is called strawberry tongue)
    a general feeling of being unwell.

People with scarlet fever are advised to wash their hands regularly after coughing, to prevent the spread of the virus.

In the past, cases of scarlet fever could be extremely serious.

scarlet fever

Fortunately, cases these days are often mild and can be treated easily with antibiotics.

Parents are advised to make an appointment for their children with their local GP if they notice symptoms of this bacteria.

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