PARENTS in Merseyside are being urged to look out for symptoms of scarlet fever among their children, after a rapid increase in cases nationally.

Public Health England (PHE) has received increased reports of the disease, with figures showing cases have almost doubled in Cheshire and Merseyside since last year – increasing from 189 cases between September and March 2012/13 to 313 in the same period of 2013/14.

In the past four weeks, 868 scarlet fever notifications have been received in England, compared to 591 for the equivalent period last year.

Around 90 per cent of scarlet fever cases occur in children under 10, and it is most common among children aged two to eight, particularly among four-year-olds. Adults can also catch the disease, but such cases are rarer.

As a result of this increase in scarlet fever, PHE is alerting health practitioners so they can be mindful of the current increase when assessing patients.

Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: “The first symptoms of scarlet fever often include a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting.

“Between 12 to 48 hours after this, a characteristic rash develops. Cases are more common in children although adults can also develop scarlet fever.

“Symptoms usually clear up after a week and the majority of cases can be treated with a course of antibiotics to reduce risk of complications.

“PHE recommends that people with symptoms of scarlet fever see their GP.

“Once children or adults are diagnosed with scarlet fever we strongly advise them to stay at home until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid passing on the infection.

“PHE publishes guidance for schools where infections can spread easily. Where outbreaks occur, local health protection teams are on hand to provide a rapid response, effective outbreak management and authoritative advice.”

Scarlet fever is mainly a childhood disease and is most common between the ages of two and eight years.

It was once a very dangerous infection, but has now become much less serious.

Antibiotic treatment should be given to minimise the risk of complications. There is currently no vaccine for scarlet fever.

PHE continue to monitor these increases and are working closely with healthcare professionals to try and halt the spread of infection.

Symptoms include:

• Sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting
• A characteristic fine red rash after 12-48 hours, on the chest and stomach, rapidly spreading to other areas. It feels like sandpaper to touch
• Fever over 38.3C or higher is common
• White coating on the tongue, which peels a few days later leaving the tongue looking red and swollen
• Swollen glands in the neck
• Feeling tired and unwell
• Flushed red face but pale around the mouth
• Peeling skin on fingertips, toes and groin, as the rash fades.