A disease which killed thousands during the 19th century is making a comeback, with parents in Cornwall and Devon warned about the rising number of scarlet fever cases being reported.
In Devon, Cornwall and Somerset the figures show a rise from 77 in 2012/2013 to 114 in 2013/2014.
In Devon alone there have been 35 cases of scarlet fever so far this year, a third of total seen in 2013
Across England there have been a total of 3,548 new cases since the season began in September 2013.
This is compared to an average of 1,420 cases reported for the same period in the previous 10 years. The last season to have this level of scarlet fever activity was 1989/1990 when 4,042 notifications were received.
Scarlet fever is an infectious disease caused by group A streptococcus bacterium. Typically there are seasonal rises in scarlet fever between December and April each year, and also a cycle of increases and decreases in incidence that repeats over a period of several years.
This most recent increase is likely to be part of that cycle.
It usually takes two to five days from infection before the first symptoms appear and the exclusion period for schools and nurseries is 24 hours from the start of antibiotics.
Routine monitoring of surveillance data identified widespread increases in scarlet fever notifications in February 2014 compared to recent years. These increases continued into March, with weeks 10 and 11 of 2014 being particularly high with numbers of notifications surpassing levels seen in the last peak year (2008/09). As a result of this increase in scarlet fever, PHE is alerting health practitioners of the current increase when assessing patients.
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.
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