West Malling Group Practice

Milverton, 116 High Street, West Malling, ME19 6NE
With surgeries at: West Malling, Leybourne & Kings Hill


Increase In Scarlet Fever Notification

We are writing to inform you of a national increase in notifications of scarlet fever to Public Health England, above seasonally expected levels.

What is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness that causes a distinctive pink-red rash.

The characteristic symptom of scarlet fever is a widespread, fine pink-red rash that feels like sandpaper to touch. It may start in one area, but soon spreads to many parts of the body, such as the ears, neck and chest. The rash may be itchy.

Anybody can catch scarlet fever, but it usually affects children aged two to eight years old.

Scarlet fever is extremely contagious and can be caught by:

  • breathing in bacteria in airborne droplets from an infected person’s coughs and sneezes
  • touching the skin of a person with a streptococcal skin infection
  • sharing contaminated towels, baths, clothes or bed linen

It can also be caught from carriers – people who have the bacteria in their throat or on their skin but do not show any symptoms.

More information can be found here

Signs and symptoms of scarlet fever

Scarlet fever is a common childhood infection caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, or group A streptococcus (GAS). The symptoms are non-specific in early illness and may include sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. After 12 to 48 hours the characteristic red, generalised pinhead rash develops, typically first appearing on the chest and stomach, rapidly spreading to other parts of the body, giving the skin a sandpaper-like texture. On more darkly-pigmented skin, the scarlet rash may be harder to spot, although the ‘sandpaper’ feel should be present.

Patients typically have flushed cheeks and pallor around the mouth. This may be accompanied by a ‘strawberry tongue’. During convalescence desquamation of the skin occurs at the tips of fingers and toes, less often over wide areas of the trunk and limbs.

The differential diagnosis will include measles, glandular fever and slapped cheek infections.

Complications of scarlet fever

Although scarlet fever is usually a mild illness, patients can develop complications such as an ear infection, throat abscess, pneumonia, sinusitis or meningitis in the early stages and acute glomerulonephritis and acute rheumatic fever at a later stage. Patients, or their parents, should keep an eye out for any symptoms which might suggest these complications and if concerned advised to seek medical help immediately.

Dr Rachel Pudney 
Consultant in Communicable Disease Control, NHS England