Scarlet fever: the latest Greater Manchester case numbers amid ongoing Strep A infections warning

The number of scarlet fever cases in Greater Manchester has fallen dramatically in the latest week of data.
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Scarlet fever case numbers have been published for Greater Manchester by the UK health authorities.

Scarlet fever is a highly contagious infection caused by the Strep A bacteria. Symptoms include a sandpapery skin rash and a white coating on the tongue. It used to be a very serious infection, but thanks to antibiotics most cases these days are mild and easily treated. However, in very rare occasions, the bacteria that causes scarlet fever - Strep A - can get into the bloodstream and cause a potentially deadly infection called invasive Group A Strep (iGAS). Parents are urged to seek medical advice if their child is getting worse, has a fever, is eating much less than normal or is very tired or irritable.

In England and Wales, the UK Health Security Agency publishes the number of scarlet fever cases reported in every local authority area.

Figures for the most recent week, up to 11 December 2022 show that in Greater Manchester case numbers fell quite significantly from the previous week (up to 4 December 2022). In fact there were only two cases reported in the city-region in the latest week of data, one in Bolton and one in Bury.

By contrast, in the previous week there were 66 cases reported in Greater Manchester, with Oldham, Tameside and Trafford all having the most infections recorded with 10.

In Wigan there were 8; Bolton 7; Manchester 7; Stockport 4; Bury 3; Salford 3, and Rochdale and Tameside had 2 each.

Nationally, County Durham had the most cases for the 11 December week, at 101. This was followed by Cardiff, with 100 cases, and Caerphilly with 76 cases.

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Dr Colin Brown, deputy director of the UK Health Security Agency said: “We are seeing a higher number of cases of Group A strep this year than usual. The bacteria usually causes a mild infection producing sore throats or scarlet fever that can be easily treated with antibiotics. In very rare circumstances, this bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness – called invasive Group A strep (iGAS).

“This is still uncommon; however, it is important that parents are on the lookout for symptoms and see a doctor as quickly as possible so that their child can be treated and we can stop the infection becoming serious.

“Make sure you talk to a health professional if your child is showing signs of deteriorating after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat, or a respiratory infection.”

The NHS advises the first signs of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature, sore throat and swollen neck glands. A rash appears 12 to 48 hours later with small, raised bumps and starts on the chest and tummy, then spreads and feels rough like sandpaper.

Rates of scarlet fever are above average this year, but are not at record highs. 2018 saw particularly high levels, with nearly 32,000 cases reported across England and Wales that year. So far this year, just over 23,000 cases have been reported to the authorities. The same period in 2018 saw 30,600 reports.

Scarlet fever rates had dipped considerably during the coronavirus pandemic, due to social distancing restrictions and increased hygiene precautions such as handwashing.