A six-year-old student has died after a bacterial outbreak at a primary school in Surrey, while another is being treated in hospital.
The UK Health Protection Agency (UKHSA) said the pupils caught a rare invasive group A streptococcal infection (IgAS).
Scarlet fever can be caused by bacteria called group A streptococcus – these bacteria are also the cause of strep throat.
Scarlet fever, a disease often associated with the Victorian era, has seen a resurgence in Britain in recent years.
The number of cases in England reached a 50-year high in 2016 – when some 17,000 infections were reported – and continued to rise in each subsequent year, government figures showed in 2020.
The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) is monitoring the infection rate in North West England.
It follows several outbreaks in schools in Lancashire and Greater Manchester, and health officials have advised parents to be on the lookout for symptoms in their children.
Is scarlet fever serious?
While scarlet fever was one of the leading causes of death in the 19th century, it is now generally a milder disease.
It mostly affects young children, and can now be easily treated with antibiotics.
However, in rare cases, it can lead to complications – ranging from ear infections to pneumonia, meningitis and rheumatic fever.
Is it contagious and how does it spread?
According to the NHS, scarlet fever is “very contagious and can easily spread to other people”.
It is caused by bacteria called group A streptococcus, which are commonly found in the nose and throat and also cause infections such as impetigo and strep throat.
It usually takes two to five days for someone exposed to the bacteria to become unwell with scarlet fever.
It is spread through airborne respiratory droplets, which can be spread by coughing and sneezing, however, people can also become infected by direct contact with an infected person’s mucus, saliva, or skin.
It can also be spread by sharing contaminated towels, baths, clothing or bed linen.
What are the symptoms?
The illness usually begins with flu-like symptoms, which may include high temperature, headache, sore throat, flushed cheeks, and swollen glands in the neck.
Early in the disease, the bacteria may cause a white coating to appear on the tongue, which eventually peels off, leaving the tongue red, swollen and covered in bumps – also known as “strawberry tongue”.
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