Published: 00:00, 16 March 2015
| Updated: 14:40, 16 March 2015
Health experts have issued a warning after four times as many cases of scarlet fever were reported in Kent compared to last year.
A total of 214 youngsters have contracted the condition between mid-September and now.
That is a 300% increase on the same period the previous year, when 54 cases were reported - in itself, an unusually high number.
In response to the "substantial increase" in cases, Public Health England (PHE) has issued a warning about the symptoms and risks of the illness.
Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE's head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: "We’re continuing to see a considerable increase in the number of people diagnosed with scarlet fever, confirming this is the second season in a row with exceptionally high numbers.
"We’re continuing to see a considerable increase in the number of people diagnosed with scarlet fever..." - Dr Theresa Lamagni
"Scarlet fever is a seasonal disease and this is the time of year when the highest numbers of cases are typically seen.
"Given that the scarlet fever season should peak within the next few weeks, we should see a reduction in numbers soon, but in the meantime substantial numbers of people will continue to be affected.
"The reasons behind this increase are unclear but may reflect long-term natural cycles in disease incidence."
Dr Lamagni said close monitoring, a rapid response to potential outbreaks and early treatment is essential.
Signs to look out for include a sore throat, headache and fever with a distinctive pink rash appearing after a day or two on the chest and stomach, which then spreads to other parts of the body.
Anyone who thinks their child may have scarlet fever is urged to see their GP immediately for antibiotic treatment.
Scarlet fever is highly contagious and those diagnosed are advised to stay at home until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid passing on the infection.
Dr Lamagni added: "GPs as well as schools and nurseries should be mindful of the current high levels of scarlet fever and promptly inform local health protection teams if they become aware of cases, especially if more than one child is affected.
"PHE strongly urge schools to embed good hand hygiene practices within daily routines for pupils and staff.
"Children and adults should be encouraged to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough and sneeze and to wash their hands after using or disposing of tissues."
Scarlet fever is mainly a childhood disease that is most common between the ages of two and eight years.
It was once a very dangerous infection, but although much less serious now, complications can arise in those who remain untreated.
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