Parents in London and Essex are urged to look out for symptoms of scarlet fever among their children after a rapid spike in cases nationally.

Public Health England (PHE) has received increased reports of the disease, with cases across England between March 24 to March 30 the highest weekly total since 1982.

In London cases rose by more than 37 per cent to 336 in the 2013/14 from 245 in the previous year.

While cases in Essex rose from 140 to 180 during the same period.

PHE guidance states that the disease is contagious and that there is currently no vaccine, so the patient must receive antibiotics urgently.

Around 90 per cent of cases occur in children under 10 and it is most common among those aged two to eight, particularly among four-year-olds.

Adults can also catch the disease but such cases are rare.

Symptoms include:

• Sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting

• A characteristic fine red rash after 12-48 hours, on the chest and stomach, rapidly spreading to other areas. It feels like sandpaper to touch

• Fever over 38.3C or higher is common

• White coating on the tongue, which peels a few days later leaving the tongue looking red and swollen

• Swollen glands in the neck

• Feeling tired and unwell

• Flushed red face but pale around the mouth

• Peeling skin on fingertips, toes and groin, as the rash fades.

Most cases are mild and will be resolved within a week, according to PHE, but complications are possible.

Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: “We are continuing to see increases in scarlet fever notifications across England and are working closely with healthcare professionals to try and understand the reason behind these increases and do our best to reduce the impact of this infection.”

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