SCHOOLS and nurseries have been urged to look out for scarlet fever after cases soared in Staffordshire.
The county recorded the highest number of scarlet fever cases in the West Midlands between September 2013 and this month. The 94 cases included 11 in Stafford Borough, 15 in South Staffordshire and 10 in Cannock Chase. East Staffordshire recorded the biggest number – 28.
Nationally Public Health England has reported a substantial increase in scarlet fever cases, with the highest levels reported in more than 30 years and more than 1,000 confirmed cases in just one week.
Scarlet fever is mainly a childhood disease, most common in two to eight year olds. There is currently no vaccine.
Although it was once a very dangerous infection it is now much less serious and can be normally be treated with antibiotics. It is caused by the bacteria streptococcus pyogenes and symptoms, which include a rash, sore throat, high temperature, swollen tongue and flushed cheeks, take around two to five days to develop after infection.
Mark Sutton, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet Support Member for Public Health, said: “New guidelines are being issued to schools and nurseries to help control the spread of infection if an outbreak occurs.
“This includes letters to parents and staff detailing what to look out for and the steps to take if scarlet fever is suspected, together with a reminder of the importance of good hygiene practice.”
The risk of contracting scarlet fever can be reduced by washing hands often, not sharing cutlery, disposing of tissues and washing handkerchiefs. It is an airborne illness that can be picked up by an infected person coughing nearby.
Parents have been warned there is a small risk of the infection leading to ear infections, throat abscesses, pneumonia and very rarely to more serious conditions, potentially affecting the liver, kidneys or heart.
Dr Alison Teale, Public Health Consultant with Staffordshire County Council, said: “Scarlet fever is a seasonal illness and Public Health England is investigating to see if there is an underlying cause for this unexpected sharp rise in cases.
“However, it is extremely contagious so can quickly spread in places like nurseries and schools so we are asking staff and parents to be on the lookout for symptoms such as the rash to help control any outbreaks.
“Anyone who thinks a child has scarlet fever should see their GP or contact NHS 111 as soon as possible and if diagnosed with the illness stay at home for at least 24 hours after being prescribed antibiotics.”