Huge increase in ‘Victorian diseases’ including rickets, scurvy and scarlet fever, NHS data reveals

‘Concerning’ rise in rickets and vitamin D deficiency-linked conditions putting children at risk of muscle and bone weakness

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Monday 25 February 2019 13:58 GMT
Rickets caused by early years vitamin D deficiency causes weaker bones, deformations and stunted growth
Rickets caused by early years vitamin D deficiency causes weaker bones, deformations and stunted growth

Rickets, scarlet fever and other diseases more commonly seen in the Victorian era are sending increasing numbers to hospital, NHS data for England has revealed.

In 2017-18 there were 284,901 admissions for scurvy, vitamin D deficiency, gout and other maladies familiar to the pages of a Dickens novel – up 24 per cent on the year before.

Many of the conditions on the rise go hand in hand with economic inequalities and child food poverty has been linked to the UK’s rising rates of malnutrition and obesity.

There were 101,136 admissions last year where vitamin D deficiency was a primary or secondary factor in the admission, a rise of 34 per cent in a year, analysis of NHS Digital data shows.

Vitamin D is essential for bone health and preventing rickets, particularly in the early years of development where deficiency can lead to the skeletal disorder.

There were an additional 474 admissions in 2017-18 where the main or secondary reason was rickets, up from 445 the year before.

Almost all these cases were young children, with 332 admissions for rickets in children aged nine and under, up from 324 the year before.

A further 80 admissions for rickets were among those aged 10 to 19, up from 67 the year before.

The body can get its vitamin D from sunlight and diet, but the UK's poor weather has prompted experts to say adults and children should take a supplement – particularly if they have darker skin.

The NHS data for 2017-18 also shows huge numbers of people – both young and old – being admitted to hospital with malnutrition.

In 2017-18, there were 9,307 admissions where malnutrition was a main or secondary factor, up on the 8,417 the previous year – with 739 having malnutrition as the primary cause.

Among children aged nine and under, 166 admissions were for a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition – up from 143 the year before.

Meanwhile, nine admissions were for children aged nine and under who needed treatment for scurvy, up from four the year before.

Dr Benjamin Jacobs, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said it was important that parents ensured their children got enough vitamin D.

He said: “Being deficient in vitamin D can restrict growth and increases a child’s risk of developing rickets or muscle weakness.

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“As this latest analysis shows, hospital admissions due to rickets are increasing. This is concerning but there are several ways this can be addressed.”

Public Health England recommends children aged one to four receive a supplement containing 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D daily.

Adults should also consider taking a supplement in autumn and winter.

The NHS Digital figures for 2017-18 also show there were 165,734 admissions where the patient had a primary or secondary diagnosis of gout – another Victorian-era disease.

This is up from 135,958 the year before.

While admissions for whooping cough fell in 2017-18, there were 27 admissions for cholera (up from 24 the year before).

There were also 306 for mumps (up from 238) and 1,546 for scarlet fever – up 35 per cent on the 1,146 the year before though the reason for its reemergence is poorly understood.

In 2017-18, there were 5,331 admissions for tuberculosis, down slightly on the year before (5,789).

Professor Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, said: “During autumn and winter, those not consuming foods naturally containing or fortified with vitamin D should consider a 10 microgram supplement.

“Those who don’t expose their skin to the sun may not get enough vitamin D from sunlight and should take a supplement all year round.

“Ethnic minorities with darker skin may not get enough vitamin D during the summer and should consider a supplement throughout the year.”

Additional reporting by PA

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