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Scarlet fever makes a comeback

6 January 2018

Scarlet fever causes fever and a red rash on the skin. Photo www.badobadop.co.uk (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

The rise in the number of cases of scarlet fever shows no sign of tailing off significantly. A record 544 cases were recorded in England in the week before Christmas.

The number of people suffering from scarlet fever, a streptococcal infection, in England reached a 50-year high in 2016 with 620 reported outbreaks and more than 19,000 cases. This represented a seven-fold increase in five years, leaving government scientists unsure as to why the Victorian-era disease has made a comeback.

"While current rates are nowhere near those seen in the early 1900s, the magnitude of the recent upsurge is greater than any documented in the last century,” said Dr Theresa Lamagni, head of streptococcal surveillance at Public Health England.

Notifications to Public Health England so far indicate a “slight decrease”, she said, but it is too early to tell definitively.

The majority of cases were reported in schools and nurseries, prompting public health chiefs to issue fresh guidance to such establishments on how to manage outbreaks.

The unsure government scientists could look to a number of causes. The continuing effects of what was called “austerity”, but which is really just a transfer of wealth from workers to capitalists.

They could also look to mass migration, which has not only overburdened our NHS, but has brought into the country in unregulated numbers the bearers of diseases once thought of as eradicated, or almost eradicated in Britain. One of those diseases is scarlet fever.