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Scarlet fever cases in west London nearly double in the first two months of 2018

The "very infectious disease" is most common in children under 10 but can be treated easily if diagnosed

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The number of scarlet fever cases in the first two months of 2018 is double the number of cases over the same period last year.

From the start of the year up to March 4, 164 suspected cases of scarlet fever were reported to Public Health England (PHE) in west London.

In the first nine weeks of 2017, 88 cases were reported, marking a 1.9 times increase over the same time period.

It is also the highest number of scarlet fever cases over the first two months of the year since at least 2014, with just 10 cases reported in the first two months of that year.

Ealing saw the highest number of reports in the first nine weeks of the year, with 37, up from 14 in the same period in 2017.

It was followed by Harrow with 31 cases, up from 12, with 28 cases in Hounslow, 22 in Hillingdon, 15 in Brent, 14 in Hammersmith and Fulham, 12 in Westminster, and five in Kensington and Chelsea.

In the nine weeks ending March 4, 8,274 suspected cases of scarlet fever were reported to Public Health England (PHE) across England and Wales.

The number of reports is much higher than over the same period in the previous eight years. There were 4,030 cases reported in 2017, as well as 3,574 in 2016, and 599 in 2011.

Scarlet fever is a contagious bacterial illness that is most prevalent among children(Image: Manchester Evening News / TMS)

Earlier in February, 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."

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 (January 22-28 2018).

This increasing trend is in line with usual patterns although cases are currently higher than those reported at this point in the last four seasons.

It is not possible at this point to determine what the final numbers will be for this season.

People have been urged not to assume it's scarlet fever as rashes can look similar to meningitis too

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 GP or NHS 111.

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.”

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.

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