Strep A infections and scarlet fever remain at higher than normal levels with 29 deaths so far this season in children, the latest figures show.

The UK Health Security Agency said there have been 35,616 reported cases of scarlet fever since September compared with 30,000 across the whole year in 2017/18 when figures were also higher than average.

The outbreak has started earlier this season with only 4,912 cases of scarlet fever seen by this point in 2017/18, the update noted.

While rare, invasive group A strep infections are also high with 159 cases in children aged one to four years since September compared with 194 across the whole year in 2017/18, the figures show.

In all there have been 151 deaths, 29 of them in those under 18 compared with 27 in this age group across 2017/18, UKHSA confirmed.

Dr Obaghe Edeghere, UKHSA incident director, said: ‘As children return to school, scarlet fever and “strep throat” continue to circulate at high levels and so it is important that we all wash our hands regularly and thoroughly and catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue.’

He added it was not too late for those eligible to have their flu and Covid-19 vaccination given that group A strep infections can be more serious when combined with another infection.

Dr Edeghere advised parents that most winter illnesses would be mild and could be managed at home but to seek advice if their child seems to be getting worse, ‘for instance they are feeding or eating less than normal, are dehydrated, have a high temperature that won’t go down, are very hot and sweaty or seem more tired or irritable than normal’.

In December, GPs were told to have a  ‘low threshold’ to prescribe antibiotics for symptoms of Group A strep, which the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee warned might lead to increased demand that would drive up prices and could affect supply. 

On 15 December, the government issued three serious shortage protocols (SSPs) for antibiotics used to treat strep A, allowing pharmacists to supply different forms of penicillin to help manage ‘local supply issues’.

A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication, Pulse.