Cases of the ‘Victorian’ disease scarlet fever have rocketed by almost 55 per cent in one week, official figures reveal.
Government statistics show 544 people were infected were struck down with it last week, compared to 352 in the previous seven days.
The Public Health England data follows the 19,079 cases that were recorded last year, the highest total reported since 1967.
Officials are unsure as to why scarlet fever is continuing its rampage across Wales and England, but experts have previously blamed a fall in living standards.
Scarlet fever is most common in children under 10. It causes a sore throat, fever and rash which can occasionally lead to pneumonia
Government statistics show 544 people were infected were struck down with it last week, compared to 352 in the previous seven days
It was a very common infection in the Victorian era – and far more deadly – but cases dramatically reduced, partly due to better hygiene.
If treated promptly, the disease is restricted to no more than unpleasant symptoms.
However, it was a death sentence for hundreds of thousands in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
How long have cases been on the up?
Cases have been on the up since 2014, but officials have yet been able to pinpoint why they have shot up in the past three years.
Some 17,350 cases of scarlet fever have already been recorded this year – with the final amount set to be calculated next week.
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
It is expected that 2017 will be the second worst year on record, with it closing in on the total of 17,559 that was recorded in 2015.
The PHE data shows cases rose significantly during the second part of the year, with 5,743 infections recorded since July.
This is contrast to the 4,292 cases that were recorded during the same time frame last year – in what was a 50-year high for scarlet fever.
Dr Theresa Lamagni, head of streptococcal surveillance at Public Health England, said in November: ‘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.’
Why are cases on the up?
Health officials remain unclear as to why scarlet fever has suddenly returned and blame ‘long-term natural cycles’.
But researchers in America, where cases are also on the rise, have linked it to a super-resistant and aggressive strain of bacteria.
This theory has repeatedly been ruled out by PHE which claims to have not found any evidence despite rigorous lab testing.
It is expected that the numbers will continue to rise further over the coming weeks as the bacteria is most active in March and April.
What is it caused by?
The disease is caused by the bacteria group A streptococcus and spread through coughs and sneezes or touching contaminated objects.
In most cases it clears up by itself but GPs may prescribe penicillin if symptoms are particularly nasty and there is a risk of complications.
Experts have also previously blamed poor lifestyles, growing financial inequality and a fall in living standards for the sharp surge in cases of scarlet fever.
Other common Victorian diseases which were thought to have become things of the past but are now making a comeback include whooping cough and scurvy.
CASES OF NOROVIRUS CONTINUE TO ROCKET, FIGURES REVEAL
The number of people struck down with the winter vomiting bug have jumped once again, new figures show.
Public Health England data shows 2,117 people have been infected with norovirus since July.
In contrast, the amount of people was just 1,887 when the Government institution’s statistics were released last week.
Norovirus is one of the most common stomach infections in the UK and it is referred to winter vomiting bug as it usually occurs at this time of year.
Usually it clears up by itself within 24 to 48 hours but it can very serious for already frail patients, and can lead to dehydration.
The virus, which can also cause diarrhoea, is extremely contagious and can create huge disruption in hospitals as it spreads so quickly between patients.
The latest figures, released by Public Health England, have been increasing at a similar rate week-on-week since October.
Although norovirus is a huge burden on the health service, cases are down nine per cent on the average for the past five years.