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Scarlet Fever and Group A Strep: What you need to know

Kiddi Caru - 14th December 2022

Over the last few weeks, the UK has been experiencing a higher number of scarlet fever and invasive Group A Strep cases in children.

We’ve included some key information in this blog post about what symptoms to look out for to help you and your little one stay healthy and happy this winter.

What is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is usually a mild illness caused by the group A streptococci bacteria. It’s very common in children under the age of 10 and is highly infectious, spread through tiny droplets in the air from coughing and sneezing.

The main symptoms of scarlet fever are:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • A fine pinkish or red rash which has a tough, sandpapery feel

Other symptoms of scarlet fever you may see are:

  • Flushed cheeks
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Loss of appetite
  • Red, swollen tongue, known as strawberry tongue

If you think that your little one has scarlet fever, you should call the NHS on 111 or visit your GP as soon as possible. Getting treatment will help stop the illness from developing into something more serious.

What is invasive Group A Strep?

In extremely rare cases, scarlet fever can develop into a more serious illness known as invasive Group A Strep. This occurs when group A streptococci bacteria enters the bloodstream.

If your little one seems to be getting worse after having scarlet fever or starts to display the following symptoms, it could be a sign of invasive Group A Strep.

  • A fever that’s lasted more than 5 days
  • For babies, feeling hotter than usual and sweaty when you touch their back or chest
  • Eating or feeding much less than normal
  • Signs of dehydration
  • Not having been for a wee or had a dry nappy for more than 12 hours
  • Feeling very drowsy and irritable

Call the NHS on 111 or visit your GP as soon as possible if you spot these symptoms in your little one. You know them better than anyone else, so if you think they seem unwell trust your own judgement!

What can I do to stop the spread of scarlet fever?

Teaching your little one basic hygiene practices, like catching sneezes in tissues and properly washing their hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, is a really simple way to help stop the spread of scarlet fever, colds, and other winter bugs.

Experts have suggested that this increase in invasive Group A Strep cases is down to more of the group A streptococci bacteria circulating and increased social mixing.

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.”

There’s a lot of media coverage surrounding scarlet fever and invasive Group A Strep at the moment. We understand that this is an uncertain time for parents but hopefully this blog entry can help you stay vigilant.

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