Northern Ireland scarlet fever outbreak: How to identify symptoms and where have clusters broke out

There has been a rise in scarlet fever cases among children across Northern Ireland.

Parents across Northern Ireland have been urged to be aware of the symptoms of scarlet fever after a "surge" in cases across Northern Ireland.

Here this UTV News Q&A explains what scarlet fever is:

What is scarlet fever and is it serious?

Scarlet fever is a contagious bacterial illness mainly affecting children under 10, though people of any age can get it. It is not usually serious but can result in complications so treatment with antibiotics is recommended. It usually clears up after a week, however, the PHA has urged people to contact their doctors should they suspect they or a child has it.

"Scarlet fever is contagious but not usually serious. Early treatment with antibiotics reduces the risk of complications and spread to others," said Dr David Cromie of the Public Health Agency.

Some parents have described the difference medication makes as 'like night and day'.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can include a sore throat, headache, high temperature, nausea and vomiting.

After 12 to 48 hours, a characteristic red generalised pinhead rash develops, typically first appearing on the chest and stomach, then rapidly spreading to other parts of the body, giving the skin a sandpaper-like texture.

A white coating also appears on the tongue. This peels, leaving the tongue red, swollen and covered in little bumps - leaving what has become known as a "strawberry tongue", the NHS says.

Where have cases been reported?

There has been a rise in scarlet fever cases among children across Northern Ireland.

Clusters of cases have been reported at schools and nurseries in Antrim, Belfast, Bangor and Craigavon, the Public Health Agency (PHA) said.

Why has there been a surge in cases?

The surge is above the level usually seen in winter.

Dr David Cromie, health protection consultant at the PHA, said it was not uncommon to see a rise in cases of scarlet fever at this time of year and they are continuing to monitor rates of infection across Northern Ireland.

However, this surge comes off the back of a decease in cases during the pandemic. Other parts of the UK are also seeing a rise in cases.

"To limit the spread of scarlet fever, it is also important to practise good hygiene by washing hands with warm water and soap, not sharing drinking glasses or utensils and covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing," Dr Cromie said.

"People should also stay away from nursery, school or work for 24 hours after taking the first dose of antibiotics."

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