A child with scarlet fever with a swollen tongue / Rex Features

Cases of scarlet fever have risen recently 

A spike in scarlet fever cases in the south of England has raised fears that it could signal an outbreak in the UK.

Authorities in Surrey have recorded 33 suspected cases of the bacterial illness in the past four weeks: 43.5 per cent higher than during the same time last year, The Mirror reported.

The condition has also been reported in a school near Brighton, East Sussex, prompting officials to carry out a deep clean of the institution, The Argus local newspaper reported. 

In recent years there has been a “significant” rise in outbreaks, but the cause is unknown according to the NHS website.

What is scarlet fever?

A bacterial illness, scarlet fever is caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, or group A streptococcus, which live on the skin and in the throat, according to the NHS. 

In general, it strikes after a sore throat or skin infections such as impetigo.  

What are the symptoms? 

Scarlet fever can cause a temperature of above 38.3 degrees, as well as a sore throat and a headache. Flushed cheeks and a swollen tongue are also signs.

A pink rash which feels like sandpaper will appear on the chest or stomach after one or two days. It can then spread to other past of the body.

The illness has an incubation period that can last from one to seven days after a person is infected. 

Who is most at risk?

80 per cent of scarlet fever cases are seen in children under 10-years-old because their immune systems are not yet developed, but anyone can catch it. But it is rare to catch it more than once. 

How is it spread?

Scarlet fever is an airborne illness, which can be caught by inhaling bacteria spread by coughs and sneezes. Touching skin infected with impetigo as well as sharing bed sheets, clothes, towels and baths can pass scarlet fever on. 

What should I do if I or someone I’m caring for has the symptoms? 

Your GP will be able to treat you or your child for scarlet fever. While scarlet fever used to be serious, it can now be easily treated with antibiotics. 

To stop the bacteria from spreading, adults should stay off work and children should be kept away from school or nursery for 24 hours after they start their course of antibiotics. 

However, meningitis - a bacterial illness which can be fatal if not treated immediately - has similar symptoms, and parents should take action. 

Dr Ivan Ratnayake of the Ashley Centre Surgery in Epsom, Surrey, told The Mirror that parents who identify the symptoms of scarlet fever should visit the doctor. 

“I wouldn't even discourage them to go to the hospital if they can't be seen by a GP immediately - you want to get your child looked at as soon as possible,” she said. 

The Independent has contacted Public Health England for a statement on the potential of a scarlet fever outbreak. 

Comments