Northern Ireland

Sharp rise in Scarlet Fever cases, fears over increase in serious Strep A infections

Sharp rise in Scarlet Fever cases reported
Sharp rise in Scarlet Fever cases reported Sharp rise in Scarlet Fever cases reported

MORE cases of Scarlet Fever were reported in a single week at the end of November than over the entire 2021, according to figures released by the Public Health Agency.

A total of 55 cases of the infection, which is linked to Strep A bacteria, were recorded in the last week of November, compared to 47 over the entire 12 months last year.

In total, 104 cases were reported over four weeks in November, an increase from 13 over the same time last year.

The PHA said the invasive Group A Streptococcal disease, caused by the same bacteria, more serious and in some cases life threatening, is not notifiable in Northern Ireland so it has no numbers of those infected.

At one school, Brackenagh West PS near Kilkeel, 32 children have contracted either Scarlet Fever or the Strep A infection. Two are in hospital, principal Michael Peacock said.

Strep A bacteria causes several infections, most relatively mild or not even noticeable. However, it sometimes causes the more serious illnesses.

While the PHA advises people to contact their GP, there are reports from across the region of long waits for call backs from surgeries.

Dr David Cromie, health protection consultant at the PHA, said: "It's not uncommon to see a rise in cases of scarlet fever at this time of year and we are continuing to monitor rates of infection across the Northern Ireland.

"Scarlet fever is contagious but not usually serious. Early treatment with antibiotics reduces the risk of complications and spread to others.

"Scarlet fever usually clears up after about a week but anyone who thinks they or a child may have it should contact a GP for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

"It is important to take antibiotics as instructed by your GP to minimise the risk of complications.

"To limit the spread of scarlet fever, it is also important to practise good hygiene by washing hands with warm water and soap, not sharing drinking glasses or utensils and covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

"People should also stay away from nursery, school or work for 24 hours after taking the first dose of antibiotics."

The number of cases of scarlet fever reported to the PHA has been rising over recent months, from 17 in September, 43 in October and 104 last month.

Scarlet fever is not usually a serious illness but treatment with antibiotics is recommended to help reduce the risk of complications and spread to others.