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Public Health England urges vigilance about spotting signs of scarlet fever

Scarlet fever is a very contagious, seasonal bacterial illness that mainly affects children and is not uncommon for this time of year.

The latest Health Protection Report showed 6,225 cases of scarlet fever had been reported since mid-September 2017, compared to 3,764 for the same period last season. There were 719 cases reported for the most recent week (22 to 28 January 2018).

This increasing trend is in line with usual patterns although cases are currently higher than those reported at this point in the last 4 seasons. It is not possible at this point to determine what the final numbers will be for this season. Scarlet fever is a clinical diagnosis and not usually confirmed by laboratory testing so the activity we may be seeing may be due to increased awareness and reporting of scarlet fever, although the exact cause is still being investigated.

Scarlet fever is usually a mild illness; PHE is advising parents to be on the lookout for scarlet fever symptoms, which include a sore throat, headache and fever with a characteristic fine, pinkish or red rash with a sandpapery feel. If signs of scarlet fever are suspected, it is important to contact your local GPor NHS 111. Early treatment with antibiotics is important and can help reduce the risk of complications such as pneumonia and the spread of the infection. Children or adults diagnosed with scarlet fever are advised to stay at home until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid spreading the infection to others.

Nick Phin, Deputy Director at Public Health England, said:

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.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:

Scarlet Fever is a bacterial infection that usually presents with a sore throat, fever, headaches, and a rosy rash that generally starts on a patient’s chest.

It is very contagious disease and much more common in children under 10 than teenagers or adults, but it can be treated quickly and effectively with a full course of antibiotics and all GPs are trained to diagnose and treat it.

Scarlet fever used to be a lot more common than it is now, but GPs are noticing more cases than in previous years at the moment. If a patient thinks that they, or their child, might have symptoms, they should seek medical assistance.

PHE is also urging GPs, paediatricians, and other health practitioners to be mindful when assessing patients and promptly notify local health protection teams of cases and outbreaks.

For further information for on scarlet fever visit the NHS Choices website.

Guidelines for the management of scarlet fever are also available from the PHE website.

FAQ's sheet below


Following a significant rise in measles cases in the Gloucestershire area, which has led to a number of children and adults being hospitalised, health professionals are asking parents and adults (specifically those born after 1988, after the introduction of the MMR vaccination, who may have missed out on MMR as a child) to check their Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination history to ensure they and their children have received the required two doses of MMR.

Anyone who needs advice or is not sure about their vaccination history should contact the practice nurse at their GP practice.

The advice follows a total of 62 confirmed cases in the county between October 2012 and January 2013. This is a significant rise compared to the previous two years for Gloucestershire, for example in 2011, less than five confirmed cases were reported for the whole year.

The situation in Gloucestershire is consistent with national trends confirmed by the Health Protection Agency which show that measles is on the increase in England and Wales. The majority of cases in Gloucestershire are in children, but adults have also been affected. 

Measles is caused by a very infectious virus which typically causes rash, cold-like symptoms, cough, red eyes and high fever. About one in every 15 children with measles will develop more serious complications. These can include ear and chest infections, fits, diarrhoea, encephalitis (infection of the brain), and brain damage.

The safest and most effective way to prevent measles is to ensure your child has received the routine two doses of the MMR vaccination.

MMR vaccination is part of the routine child immunisation programme, one dose is given at 13 months and a second pre-school booster is given before school.  (Generally there is no need for your child to have either of these immunisations before they are due, although your doctor may consider this on an individual basis if your child has been in contact with a confirmed case).

Dr David Hunt, South West (North) Health Protection Unit said:

“It is important to remember that measles isn’t a “harmless” childhood disease for some and this is why we have seen hospitalisations in Gloucestershire. Thankfully all have now fully recovered and have been discharged.

“However, these hospitalisations reinforce how important it is to make sure that you and your children are protected and that is why we are urging the community to make sure that children are fully immunised and have had both doses of the MMR vaccine.”

Dr Jeremy Welch, Tewkesbury GP and member of the Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group Shadow Board, added:

“Measles is a highly infectious and potentially dangerous illness which spreads very easily. If you have missed out on the MMR vaccination in the past it’s always possible for a catch-up.  Just contact your local GP practice for an appointment.”

The local community is also being advised that anyone displaying symptoms of measles should take the following steps to prevent spreading the disease to others:

  • Keep away from school or work and away from others for five days from when the rash first appeared.
  • You should also avoid coming into contact with people who may be particularly vulnerable to complications as a result of exposure to measles. This includes people with weakened immune systems, infants under the age of one, and pregnant women. 
  • It is also very important NOT to go to your GP practice or A&E department if you or your child has symptoms of measles.  If you do, you risk passing on the infection to others in the waiting room.  If your child has symptoms of the disease please telephone your GP surgery in the first instance.

Signs and Symptoms:

Measles is an infectious viral illness that is spread by droplets in the air when infected people cough or sneeze.  The following symptoms are commonly seen in measles infection:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore and watering eyes
  • Widespread rash that develops 3-4 days after the onset of the illness, starting with the face and head and spreading down the body.

Although most people will get over measles without too many problems, a significant number will develop complications including ear infection, diarrhoea, pneumonia or meningitis.

Complications are more likely in those who have a weakened immune system or in infants under the age of 1 year.  Measles can also cause problems in pregnancy. People in these categories who are recent contacts of a definite case of measles and who are not immune may be offered vaccination.

Since the introduction of measles vaccine, and especially since the introduction of MMR vaccine in 1988, numbers of cases have reduced to low levels. 

Where can I get more information about measles and the MMR vaccine?

More information about measles is available from the Health Protection Agency website at:

More information about the MMR vaccine is available from the NHS Immunisation website at: and at

26 Aug 2013, 23:06
Karen Maggs,
27 Feb 2018, 09:00