Concern at outbreaks of scarlet fever at several Wigan primary schools

Parents are being urged to stay vigilant after several outbreaks of a potentially serious childhood illness at schools in Wigan.

Public health experts have received reports of children being diagnosed with scarlet fever at three primary schools in the borough.

It is a cause for concern, as it is an infection which is not particularly common and can become serious if not treated.

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Scarlet fever outbreak at Wigan primary schools - what is it?
A rash and white coating on the tongue are symptoms of scarlet fever

Prof Kate Ardern, Wigan Council’s director of public health, said: “We have a number of outbreaks of scarlet fever in the borough. I have asked colleagues to investigate this more. While I have seen the odd case over the last 14 years of scarlet fever, what I haven’t seen before are a number of outbreaks like we have now.”

According to the NHS, scarlet fever is a highly contagious infection that mostly affects young children and while it can be a serious illness, it is easily treated with antibiotics.

The first signs of the infection are flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature and sore throat, with a scarlet rash appearing on the body 12 to 48 hours later and a white coating on the tongue.

People with scarlet fever can be contagious for up to six days before they get symptoms, meaning they are unaware they are spreading the infection.

Prof Kate Ardern, director of public health for Wigan Council

Most people recover after a week.

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Scarlet fever is a notifiable disease, so the outbreaks have been reported to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Prof Ardern said there had also been reports of scarlet fever in Greater Manchester and Cumbria and investigations were taking place to establish the reasons for the outbreaks.

One line of inquiry will be whether there are any links to Covid-19, for example if children who contracted the virus are then more susceptible to scarlet fever.

Public health officials in Wigan are working to make parents aware of the symptoms of scarlet fever and encourage them to take action if necessary.

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The schools where outbreaks are currently taking place have not been named publicly.

Prof Ardern said: “We are seeing a rebound, perhaps because the children are all back together. We are seeing other childhood illnesses for which there is no vaccine.

"You do need to be treated with antibiotics if you have scarlet fever, it’s a bacterial infection.

"We have been working very hard with schools to get information out about enhanced infection prevention control measures, reminding parents to get children to doctors and get them treated quickly – that’s very important.

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“We have been giving guidance out, we have been talking through the need to get a diagnosis confirmed and antibiotic therapy started, and obviously children can’t go to school or nursery if they have scarlet fever.”

While adults can also contract scarlet fever, it is seen more often in children.

Prof Ardern added: “It’s very important that people are aware that scarlet fever is circulating in that younger age group.”

Anyone concerned about a child who may have scarlet fever is advised to contact their GP or call NHS111.

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