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Resurgence of scarlet fever in England, 2014-16: A population-based surveillance study

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Stephen Rushton



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


© 2017 Elsevier Ltd. Background: After decades of decreasing scarlet fever incidence, a dramatic increase was seen in England beginning in 2014. Investigations were launched to assess clinical and epidemiological patterns and identify potential causes. Methods: In this population-based surveillance study, we analysed statutory scarlet fever notifications held by Public Health England from 1911 to 2016 in England and Wales to identify periods of sudden escalation of scarlet fever. Characteristics of cases and outbreaks in England including frequency of complications and hospital admissions were assessed and compared with the pre-upsurge period. Isolates from throat swabs were obtained and were emm typed. Findings: Data were retrieved for our analysis between Jan 1, 1911, and Dec 31, 2016. Population rates of scarlet fever increased by a factor of three between 2013 and 2014 from 8·2 to 27·2 per 100 000 (rate ratio [RR] 3·34, 95% CI 3·23-3·45; p<0·0001); further increases were observed in 2015 (30·6 per 100 000) and in 2016 (33·2 per 100 000), which reached the highest number of cases (19 206) and rate of scarlet fever notifcation since 1967. The median age of cases in 2014 was 4 years (IQR 3-7) with an incidence of 186 per 100 000 children under age 10 years. All parts of England saw an increase in incidence, with 620 outbreaks reported in 2016. Hospital admissions for scarlet fever increased by 97% between 2013 and 2016; one in 40 cases were admitted for management of the condition or potential complications. Analysis of strains (n=303) identified a diversity of emm types with emm3 (43%), emm12 (15%), emm1 (11%), and emm4 (9%) being the most common. Longitudinal analysis identified 4-yearly periodicity in population incidence of scarlet fever but of consistently lower magnitude than the current escalation. Interpretation: England is experiencing an unprecedented rise in scarlet fever with the highest incidence for nearly 50 years. Reasons for this escalation are unclear and identifying these remains a public health priority. Funding: None.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lamagni T, Guy R, Chand M, Henderson KL, Chalker V, Lewis J, Saliba V, Elliot AJ, Smith GE, Rushton S, Sheridan EA, Ramsay M, Johnson AP

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: The Lancet Infectious Diseases

Year: 2018

Volume: 18

Issue: 2

Pages: 180-187

Print publication date: 01/02/2018

Online publication date: 27/11/2017

Acceptance date: 02/04/2016

Date deposited: 03/01/2018

ISSN (print): 1473-3099

ISSN (electronic): 1474-4457

Publisher: Lancet Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1016/S1473-3099(17)30693-X


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