Scarlet fever on the rise: what you need to know

Cases of the highly contagious Victorian disease is on the rise in the UK but what is the bacterial infection? We found out what you need to know.

Like scurvy and rickets, scarlet fever was once thought of as a disease of the Victorian age that more or less died out years ago.

But the disease is said to be on the rise with the disease hitting an all time since the 1960s.

[Read more: From gout to rickets, 5 Victorian diseases back to haunt us]

So what do you need to know? We found out.

What is scarlet fever and who gets it?

Anyone can get scarlet fever, but young children are most affected.

Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness that is most common among children under the age of 10. Key symptoms include a sore throat, skin infection and the bright pink rash that gives the condition its name.

This usually starts as red blotches before turning into a fine pinky-red rash that feels like sandpaper. There might be a high temperature, headache and swollen tongue too, usually in the day or two before the rash develops, and nausea and vomiting.

How do you catch it?

It’s highly contagious and can be passed on by coughing, sneezes, skin-to-skin contact and handling contaminated objects, like bath towels or bedding.

Most cases occur during winter and spring. Good hygiene – paying attention to hand-washing, and avoiding sharing potentially contaminated items – can help reduce spreading.

[Read more: Thinking about private health cover? Get a free, no obligation quote]

What should you do if you think your child has scarlet fever?

In the past, an outbreak of scarlet fever was a very serious concern and children and families affected were often quarantined. While things are different now, it’s still important that it’s properly diagnosed and treated, and that necessary steps are taken to avoid passing it on further.

In the majority of cases, scarlet fever will clear up of its own accord, but it’s always recommended to see a GP if you think you or your child may have it.

How is it treated?

The usual course of treatment is antibiotics, which will help you recover more quickly, lower the amount of time you’re contagious for and reduce the risk of complications occurring. It’s usually a 10-day course, and children should start feeling better after 24 hours, with symptoms clearing up completely after a few days (but it’s still vital to complete the full course of treatment).

Doctors generally advise that anybody infected stays home from nursery, school or work for at least 24 hours after starting on antibiotics too.

Can it be serious?

In the past, scarlet fever was a leading cause of infant death. Better hygiene and treatments means it generally isn’t the terrifying illness it used to be, and in the vast majority of cases will clear up quite quickly and cause little more than a few days of feeling poorly, especially if treated properly. But as with many conditions, complications – ranging from mild to serious – can still potentially occur.

Complications are rare and especially easy to avoid if symptoms are spotted and treatment begun early. However, in some rare cases, potential complications can occur, ranging from relatively simple issues like an ear infection, to blood poisoning and liver damage in more serious cases.

If you are concerned about your child’s health, or if symptoms suddenly worsen or change, always get them checked with a doctor.