Cases of scarlet fever have reached the highest level in England since 1960, according to Public Health England (PHE).

Between mid-September and the week ending March 18, more than 15,370 cases were reported to PHE.

In Hertfordshire nearly 100 cases were recorded – 1.8 times higher than during the same nine week period in 2017.

While the rise may be partially due to an increase in infections, health chiefs say that much of the change could be down to improved public awareness.

“Greater awareness and improved reporting practices may have contributed to this increase,” said Nick Phin, deputy director at Public Health England.

To help keep cases to a minimum, PHE are encouraging parents, carers and nursery workers to look out for the signs and symptoms of scarlet fever among their children.

How to spot scarlet fever

The infectious disease, most commonly affecting children aged between two and eight years, has seasonal rises from December to April. Nearly 90 per cent of all reported case last winter involve children under 10 years.

Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: “The first symptoms of scarlet fever often include a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Between 12 to 48 hours after this, a characteristic rash develops. Cases are more common in children although adults can also develop scarlet fever.

“Symptoms usually clear up after a week and the majority of cases can be treated with a course of antibiotics to reduce risk of complications.”

Look out for:

  • sore throat
  • swollen glands in the neck
  • headache
  • fever (38.3C/101F or above)
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • after 12-48 hours, a distinctive bumpy ‘sandpaper’ rash will appear. This usually starts on the stomach or chest before spreading
  • tongue may turn white or red

The PHE strongly urges people with symptoms of scarlet fever to consult their GP or call NHS 111. This will help prevent the risk of complications.

Once known as a dangerous infection, today scarlet fever is now considered far less serious. Most cases can be easily treated with a course of antibiotics. Those who have had the illness before are unlikely to catch it again.

To stop scarlet fever spreading

  • keep your child away from nursery or school for at least 24 hours after starting antibiotic treatment – adults should stay off work for at least 24 hours after starting treatment
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw away used tissues immediately
  • wash your hands with soap and water often, especially after using or disposing of tissues
  • avoid sharing utensils, cups and glasses, clothes, baths, bed linen, towels or toys

For more guidance visit NHS.