Scarlet Fever: Strep A Bacteria Sicken Children Across UK

The UK’s health authorities warned parents to watch for scarlet fever symptoms after six children who contracted the disease died.

In the week of November 13 to November 19, 851 cases of scarlet fever across the country were reported, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data released on Friday.

A total of 4,622 notifications of scarlet fever were received from weeks 37 to 46 this season in England, compared with an average of 1,294 for the same period in the previous five years.

Six children died of an invasive form of the disease, BBC reports. Invasive Group A strep (iGAS) occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream and cause serious illness.

Scarlet fever rash

Officials say that cases of an invasive form of the disease are rare; however, this year alone, 509 cases of iGAS were reported, compared to an average of 248 over the last five seasons.

“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,” said Dr. Colin Brown, deputy director at the UKHSA.

What are the symptoms?

Scarlet fever, also known as scarlatina, is caused by the bacteria called group A Streptococcus (Group A Strep). These bacteria often live in the nose and throat. Scarlet fever is usually mild but very contagious. Anyone can get the disease, but it is the most common in children aged 5 to 15.

The symptoms of scarlet fever may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Pinkish or red body rash with a sandpapery feeling

The UKHSA warns that the rash can be more difficult to see on darker skin but will have a sandpapery feel.

How do the bacteria spread?

People generally spread the bacteria to others through respiratory droplets when coughing or sneezing or direct contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

People may get sick after:

  • Breathing in respiratory droplets that contain the bacteria.
  • Touching something with those droplets on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
  • Drinking from the same glass or eating from the same plate as a person infected with group A strep.
  • Touching sores on the skin coming into contact with fluid from sores.

The disease is treated with antibiotics.

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