Scarlet fever is caused by the same bacteria that can lead to invasive Group A strep (iGAS), which has claimed the lives of nine children in the UK.
The condition iGAS is caused by a bacteria called group A streptococci, which usually causes mild illnesses such as strep throat and scarlet fever. On very rare occasions, the bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause iGAS.
The North West has the highest rates of scarlet fever, at 13 cases per 100,000 residents in the latest 10-week period recorded, with 957 cases in total. The region also has an iGAS rate above the national average.
Parents concerned about a seriously ill child should seek medical advice, the UKHSA has said.
Strep A facts and figures
Rates of iGAS strep are now four times higher than usual among children aged one to four, official figures for England show.
Yorkshire and the Humber has England’s highest rates of iGAS, with 1.4 cases per 100,000 residents in the most recent 10-week period. The North East, North West and South East also have rates above the England average.
Dr Colin Brown, deputy director of the UKHSA, said: “We are seeing a higher number of cases of Group A strep this year than usual. The bacteria usually causes a mild infection producing sore throats or scarlet fever that can be easily treated with antibiotics. In very rare circumstances, this bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness – called invasive Group A strep.
“This is still uncommon; however, it is important that parents are on the lookout for symptoms and see a doctor as quickly as possible so that their child can be treated and we can stop the infection becoming serious. Make sure you talk to a health professional if your child is showing signs of deteriorating after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat, or a respiratory infection.”
Across England, infection rates have risen most dramatically among children aged one to four, with 2.3 cases per 100,000 - four times higher than the average rates in the three years to March 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic. And infection rates among children aged five to nine have tripled compared to this three-year average.
Health officials are investigating the rise but say there is currently no evidence that a new strain is circulating.
Rates of scarlet fever, which is caused by the same bacteria, are also about four times higher than average. The North West has the highest rates of scarlet fever, at 13 cases per 100,000 residents in the latest 10-week period, with 957 cases recorded in total.
Scarlet fever is usually a mild illness, but it is highly infectious. Parents are advised to look out for symptoms in their child like a sore throat, headache, and fever, along with a fine, pinkish or red body rash with a sandpapery feel. On darker skin, the rash can be more difficult to detect visually but will feel like sandpaper.
Parents are advised to call 999 or go to A&E if their child is having difficulty breathing, there are pauses when their child breathes, the skin, tongue or lips are blue or the child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake.