Deadly scarlet fever cases have soared to the highest level in England for 50 years, new research reveals.
More than 19,000 cases were reported in 2016, which is the most since 1967 and seven times more than in 2011, a study found.
Although the cause of the outbreak is unclear, the bacteria is highly contagious and may have reached England from the surge of incidences in Vietnam, China, South Korea and Hong Kong, according to researchers.
The ‘Victorian disease’, which affected more than 100,000 in England in the 1990s, can cause life-threatening complications including pneumonia, sepsis and organ damage.
Study leader Dr Theresa Lamagni, head of streptococcal surveillance at Public Health England, said: ‘Whilst current rates are nowhere near those seen in the early 1900s, the magnitude of the recent upsurge is greater than any documented in the last century.
‘Guidance on management of outbreaks in schools and nurseries has just been updated and research continues to further investigate the rise.’
Deadly scarlet fever cases have soared to the highest level in England for 50 years (stock)
WHAT IS SCARLET FEVER?
Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection that causes a blotchy, pink-red rash.
Children are usually affected but anyone of any age can suffer.
Other symptoms, which usually occur within a week of infection, include sore throat, fever and headache.
The characteristic rash usually starts on the chest or abdomen before spreading.
It can feel like sandpaper and turn white when pressed with a glass.
A white coating may form on the tongue that peels within a few days, leaving the tongue very red and swollen.
Treatment includes antibiotics, rest, drinking fluids and painkillers to reduce fever, if necessary.
Infected people should stay at home until they recover.
Some cases can lead to complications including pneumonia, sepsis and organ failure.
Source: NHS Choices
‘Upsurge is greater than any in the last century’
Dr Lamagni said: ‘Whilst current rates are nowhere near those seen in the early 1900s, the magnitude of the recent upsurge is greater than any documented in the last century.
‘Whilst notifications so far for 2017 suggest a slight decrease in numbers, we continue to monitor the situation carefully.
‘Guidance on management of outbreaks in schools and nurseries has just been updated and research continues to further investigate the rise.
‘We encourage parents to be aware of the symptoms of scarlet fever and to contact their GP if they think their child might have it.’
Outbreak in Asia
From the beginning of the year to April, there were around 780 scarlet fever cases in Hong Kong, with 1,100 incidences the previous year.
More than 67,000 suffered in China in 2016.
In South Korea, cases increased from 0.3 sufferers per 100,000 people in 2008 to 13.7 per 100,000 in 2015.
Although it is unclear what is causing the scarlet fever outbreaks, incidence is typically higher during winter and spring, and therefore the increasing number of sufferers may be due to climate change.
There is no vaccine for scarlet fever. Prevention focuses on hand washing, not sharing personal items and staying away from infected people.
Schools and nurseries most affected
Some 620 cases of scarlet fever have occurred within the last year, with schools and nurseries being the most affected, the study found.
The research was published in the journal The Lancet.
Scarlet fever is caused by bacteria known as group A streptococcus (GAS). It is spread through close contact with people carrying the organism, which often resides in the throat, or by touching contaminated objects and surfaces.
In the early 1900s through to the 1930s, the number of cases of scarlet fever in England and Wales regularly topped 100,000.