Milton Keynes currently has one of highest scarlet fever rates in England and Wales, figures show

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Parents everywhere are urged to be vigilant for symptoms of it turning to Strep A infection

Thirteen cases of were reported in Milton Keynes last week, making it among the 10 worst places in the UK for the disease.

Scarlet fever is a highly contagious infection caused by the Strep A bacteria. Symptoms include a sandpapery skin rash and a white coating on the tongue.

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It used to be a very serious infection, but thanks to antibiotics most cases these days are mild and easily treated.

'Strawberry tongue' is a classic symptom of a child with scarlet fever'Strawberry tongue' is a classic symptom of a child with scarlet fever
'Strawberry tongue' is a classic symptom of a child with scarlet fever

However, in very rare occasions, the bacteria that causes scarlet fever - Strep A - can get into the bloodstream and cause a potentially deadly infection called invasive Group A Strep (iGAS).

Parents are urged to seek medical advice if their child is getting worse, has a fever, is eating much less than normal or is very tired or irritable.

In England and Wales, the UK Health Security Agency publishes the number of scarlet fever cases reported in every local authority area.

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Figures for the week ending December 4 show Milton Keynes is number 9 in the ranking for the highest number of cases.

The most cases – 32 - were recorded in the Isle of Wight followed by Leeds with 22 and Allerdale in Cumbria with 20. Dr Colin Brown, deputy director of the UK Health Security Agency 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 (iGAS).

“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.”

He added: “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.”

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Rates of scarlet fever are above average this year, but are not at record highs. 2018 saw particularly high levels, with nearly 32,000 cases reported across England and Wales that year.

So far this year, just over 23,000 cases have been reported to the authorities. The same period in 2018 saw 30,600 reports.

Scarlet fever rates dipped considerably during the coronavirus pandemic due to social distancing restrictions and increased hygiene precautions such as handwashing.

Milton Keynes University Hospital has put a factsheet about Group A streptococcus (GAS) on its website, explaining how it is a common bacteria that many of us carry and it doesn’t always result in illness.

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The factsheet states: "GAS causes infections in the skin, soft tissue and respiratory tract. It’s responsible for infections such as tonsillitis, pharyngitis, scarlet fever, impetigo and cellulitis among others.

“While infections like these can be unpleasant, they rarely become serious. When treated with antibiotics, an unwell person with a mild illness like tonsilitis stops being contagious around 24 hours after starting their medication.”

The hospital is advising thorough handwashing for at least 20 seconds to stop the infection spreading.