Parents have been warned to keep an eye out for the symptoms of scarlet fever after 32 cases of the once-feared Victorian disease were recorded in Blackpool in the first 14 weeks of the year.
Just 75 cases were recorded in the whole of 2017 – although health chiefs say the surge in reported cases may be down to improved awareness.
One school, Thames Primary Academy and Children’s Centre in Severn Road, South Shore, sent a letter home, saying it had been informed ‘a number of children’ had been diagnosed with suspected scarlet fever’.
“Although scarlet fever is usually a mild illness, it should be treated with antibiotics to minimise the risk of complications and reduce the spread to others,” it said, adding pupils should stay away from classes for 24 hours after starting their treatment.
In addition to Blackpool, Wyre has recorded 22 cases of scarlet fever so far this year, and 46 in the whole of 2017.
Fylde has recorded 18 in the first four months of 2018, after a total of just 19 last year.
The illness mainly affects youngsters between two and eight and, once treated with antibiotics, usually clears up within a week.
But there is a small risk of the infection spreading and causing more serious conditions such as pneumonia.
People with symptoms –which include a sore throat, headache, and fever accompanied by a characteristic rash – are ‘strongly urged to consult their GP’.
Cases are spread through bacteria by both indirect contact, such as sneezes and coughs, and direct contact, such as skin or contaminated towels or clothes.
Infection rates have risen steadily since 2014 – after being responsible for 36,000 deaths in England in the first decade of the 20th century, prior to modern medicine.
Public Health England has urged vigilance, saying ‘it is important to contact your local GP or NHS 111 if signs of scarlet fever are suspected’.
Deputy director Nick Phin said: “It’s not uncommon to see a rise in cases of scarlet fever at this time of year.
“We are monitoring the situation closely and remind parents to be aware of the symptoms of scarlet fever and to contact their GP for assessment if they think their child might have it.”
He added ‘greater awareness and improved reporting’ may be behind a ‘notable increase’ in cases.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Scarlet fever used to be a lot more common than it is now, but GPs are noticing more cases than in previous years at the moment.”
GPs, paediatricians and other health workers have been warned to be on alert.