PARENTS are being warned to be vigilant as scarlet fever cases more than double compared with this time last year.
A total of 11,981 notifications of the bacterial illness, which causes a distinctinctive pink-red rash, have been received so far this season in England.
This is compared to an average of 4,480, ranging between 2,281 to 6,413 - for this same period, mid September to the end of February, in the previous five years.
While the highest rise has been seen in the North East, the South East has reported a rate per 100,0000 more than double the same period last year.
The illness is most common in children and the vast majority of cases, 89 per cent, have been reported in those under 10 years old.
The characteristic symptom of scarlet fever is a widespread, fine pink-red rash that feels like sandpaper to touch and is itchy.
It may start in one area, but soon spreads to many parts of the body, such as the ears, neck and chest.
Anybody can catch scarlet fever, but it usually affects children aged two to eight years old.
Scarlet fever is extremely contagious and can be caught by:
- - breathing in bacteria from an infected person's coughs and sneezes
- - touching the skin of a person with the skin infection
- - sharing contaminated towels, baths, clothes or bed linen
It can also be caught from carriers – people who have the bacteria in their throat or on their skin but do not show any symptoms.
Nick Phin, Deputy Director at Public Health England, said parents should not be alarmed but to see a GP if their child is showing symptoms.
He 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."
He added: "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."