Scarlet fever cases rise by 47 per cent compared with 2017

Scarlet fever can be treated with antibiotics to reduce the risk of complications and spread to others. Picture by PA Photo/Thinkstock

MORE than 50 cases of scarlet fever were reported in the first three weeks of the year - almost four times as many as 2017.

The Public Health Agency recorded 53 cases in Northern Ireland at the beginning of January alone.

During the same period last year the total stood at just 14.

The number of people falling ill during rest of the first quarter of 2018 have been more in line with previous years, but the high number of cases at the beginning of the year means a 47 per cent increase on the number of cases reported in 2017.

The latest figures from the Public Health Agency (PHA) reveal 192 people fell ill with the disease during January, February and March, compared with 131 last year.

A PHA spokeswoman said, despite the rise, "cases are not predicted to be as high as those seen in 2014".

"It's not uncommon to see a rise in cases of scarlet fever at this time of year," she said.

"Scarlet fever is not usually a serious illness and can be treated with antibiotics to reduce the risk of complications and spread to others."

Scarlet Fever is a bacterial infection with the first sign usually flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature of 38C or above and swollen neck glands.

However, the symptoms of scarlet fever are non-specific in early illness and may also include sore throat, headache, nausea and vomiting.

After 12 to 48 hours the characteristic red, generalised pinhead rash develops, typically first appearing on the chest and stomach, rapidly spreading to other parts of the body, giving the skin a sandpaper-like texture.

On more darkly-pigmented skin, the scarlet rash may be harder to spot, although the `sandpaper' feel should be present.

Patients typically have flushed cheeks and paleness around the mouth which may be accompanied by a `strawberry tongue'.

It is very contagious disease which is much more common in children under 10 than teenagers or adults, but the symptoms are the same for all who contract it, regardless of age.

Scarlet fever, once a very common and dangerous disease, can be treated with antibiotics to reduce the risk of complications and spread to others, with all GPs trained to spot the signs.

Patients are advised to return to the GP if symptoms do not improve following a week after first consulting a doctor for a diagnosis - especially if a child has recently had chickenpox.

Further treatment may also be necessary if they fall ill again weeks after scarlet fever has cleared up, as this could be a sign of a complication such as pneumonia

Because, scarlet fever is very infectious not all GPs recommend a visit to the surgery, sometimes suggesting a telephone consultation.

As a `notifiable disease', all doctors and other health care workers must "promptly notify local health protection teams of cases and outbreaks".

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