Wales experiences record number of scarlet fever cases

Latest UK Health & Medical News »

Officials in Wales have reported a surge in cases of scarlet fever.

Data from Public Health Wales shows that 866 cases of scarlet fever were identified in Wales last week (week commencing 5th December). This is the highest weekly tally since records began and represents an increase of 473.5% from the previous week. Despite the sharp increase in cases, health officials have urged people to interpret the data “with caution.” Dr Chris Williams, consultant epidemiologist at Public Health Wales, stressed that there has been an increase in case numbers, but that there are several contributing factors. Public awareness of the infection is heightened due to campaigns in recent weeks and GPs have been encouraged to report cases promptly. 

In the last couple of weeks, there has been an increase in patients seeking advice for symptoms, which is driving the number of confirmed cases up, but the statistics show that scarlet fever has been more prevalent in 2022. Dr Williams explained that it was common to see waves of infection every 3-4 years but the figures reported by PHW suggest a steeper and more significant rise this year. The figures for 2022 are higher than the previous record-breaking year, 2018. Up to December 11th, there were 2,225 reported cases. 

Scarlet fever is a highly contagious infection, which causes symptoms, including a high temperature, a severe sore throat, intense redness in the throat and red bumps on the tongue, which are described as strawberry tongue. The infection is treated using antibiotics. In most cases, scarlet fever is a relatively mild illness, but some people develop more serious symptoms and require treatment in hospital. Dr Williams stated that most children who have a sore throat or a fever may have seasonal illnesses, such as coughs and colds. Signs of scarlet fever are often similar but usually include nausea or vomiting and a pink rash, which feels rough, as well as a high temperature and a bumpy tongue. 

Parents who are worried about their child having scarlet fever have been advised to contact their GP or NHS 111 Wales. The same advice applies to parents in other parts of the UK, where cases of scarlet fever are also higher than usual. There has been widespread concern about signs and symptoms amid an increase of cases of strep A infection. Strep A is a bacteria, which is found in the throat and on the skin. Most people carry it without experiencing any symptoms but it can cause mild symptoms, such as a sore throat and a fever, as well as scarlet fever. 

In rare cases, strep A can cause invasive Group A Streptococcus (iGAS), which occurs when the infection penetrates the immune system. This can be very serious and requires urgent medical treatment. Cases of strep A have been increasing in the last few weeks across Wales and other parts of the UK, and so far, more than 15 deaths have been reported in the UK. The most recent data from Public Health Wales shows that there were 7 cases of iGAS last week. 
Dr Williams urged parents not to panic, explaining that most children who develop iGAS will get better with appropriate treatment. Acting quickly is important and parents are encouraged to seek urgent advice if their child has a fever (temperature over 38 degrees) combined with severe muscle aches and pains. Public Health Wales is also urging parents to make sure that their children have the free flu vaccine. Children who have existing illnesses or weakened immune systems are more vulnerable to strep A infection. 

As cases of scarlet fever and strep A infections have risen, so has the demand for antibiotics. Pharmacies across the UK have reported shortages but health officials have reassured the public that there are sufficient supplies of drugs.