Urgent warning over Victorian disease on the rise – signs and symptoms to watch out for

By Staff 7 Min Read

Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness that mainly affects children and is not usually serious. However, it is highly contagious and can be dangerous if left untreated

People are being asked stay alert over symptoms of a Victorian disease – following more than 12,000 reported cases of scarlet fever in the UK over the last few months.

While these numbers exceed the average tally for the past five years, it does fall below the count from 2023 when there were 15,933 documented instances during the same span. Health leaders now advise everyone to recognise the signs and, if they suspect that they might be affected, to not hesitate on getting medical attention.

Dr Theresa Lamagni at the UK Health Security Agency warned: “Scarlet fever is a common childhood illness, although it can affect anyone of any age. If you suspect you or your child have scarlet fever with symptoms such as fever, a sandpapery rash, sore throat and swollen tonsils – contact your GP practice or NHS111 if your GP is not available.

“Scarlet fever is usually mild and can be treated with antibiotics these will help reduce the risk of complications and limit spread of the infection to others. To avoid the infection spreading, it’s important to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly and keep your home well-ventilated.

“If you or your child has been diagnosed with scarlet fever, you should stay away from nursery, school or work for 24 hours after you start taking antibiotics. This will help stop the infection spreading to other people. As with other infections, you should also avoid visiting vulnerable people whilst you’re feeling unwell.” In very rare cases, the bacteria that causes scarlet fever can cause a more serious infection, called invasive group A strep. Case numbers are in line with expected numbers given the time of year, reports Nottinghamshire Live.

Scarlet fever symptoms

The first symptoms of scarlet fever often include a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. After 12 to 48 hours the characteristic fine red rash develops (if you touch it, it feels like sandpaper).

Typically, it first appears on the chest and stomach, rapidly spreading to other parts of the body. On more darkly-pigmented skin, the rash may be harder to spot, although the ‘sandpaper’ feel should be present.

Further symptoms include:

  • fever over 38.3C (101 F) or higher is common
  • white coating on the tongue which peels a few days later, leaving the tongue looking red and swollen (known as ‘strawberry tongue’)
  • swollen glands in the neck
  • feeling tired and unwell
  • flushed red face, but pale around the mouth. The flushed face may appear more ‘sunburnt’ on darker skin
  • peeling skin on the fingertips, toes and groin area, as the rash fades

It usually takes two to five days from infection before the first symptoms appear. However, the incubation period may be as short as one day and as long as seven days. Scarlet fever usually clears up after a week.

When to get emergency help

Call or go to A&E if:

  • your child is having difficulty breathing – they may make grunting noises, or you may notice their tummy sucking under their ribs
  • there are pauses when your child breathes
  • your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue or grey – on black or brown skin this may be easier to see on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  • your child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake

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