December 3, 2023

There has been a rise in scarlet fever cases among children across Northern Ireland – prompting a warning for parents to be aware of the symptoms.

Clusters of cases have been reported at schools and nurseries in Antrim, Belfast, Bangor and Craigavon, the Public Health Agency (PHA) said.

The surge is above the level usually seen in winter, it added.

It follows two years of fewer cases during the pandemic.

Other parts of the UK, where it is a notifiable disease, have also reported similar increases.

It is not a notifiable disease in Ireland. But the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre said that public health teams may be contacted in response to an outbreak in a crèche or school. Though currently there are no reported outbreaks.

Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness mainly affecting children under ten, though people of any age can get it.

It is not usually serious but can result in complications so treatment with antibiotics is recommended.

Symptoms can include a sore throat, headache, high temperature, nausea and vomiting.

After 12 to 48 hours, a characteristic red generalised pinhead rash develops, typically first appearing on the chest and stomach, then rapidly spreading to other parts of the body, giving the skin a sandpaper-like texture.

A white coating also appears on the tongue. This peels, leaving the tongue red, swollen and covered in little bumps – leaving what has become known as a “strawberry tongue”, the NHS says.

Dr David Cromie, health protection consultant at the PHA, said: “It’s not uncommon to see a rise in cases of scarlet fever at this time of year and we are continuing to monitor rates of infection across the Northern Ireland.

“Scarlet fever is contagious but not usually serious. Early treatment with antibiotics reduces the risk of complications and spread to others.

“Scarlet fever usually clears up after about a week but anyone who thinks they or a child may have it should contact a GP for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

“It is important to take antibiotics as instructed by your GP to minimise the risk of complications.

“To limit the spread of scarlet fever, it is also important to practise good hygiene by washing hands with warm water and soap, not sharing drinking glasses or utensils and covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

“People should also stay away from nursery, school or work for 24 hours after taking the first dose of antibiotics.”


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