HEALTH officials are investigating an increase in scarlet fever cases in Lancashire.
More than 160 people have suffered with the infection in the past seven months, compared to just 76 during the same period last year.
Although significant, the increase is not as steep as that seen in other parts of England such as the East Midlands, where there have been more than 1,000 cases reported.
Nationally, there were 7,198 cases during the same period, compared to an average of 1,836 in previous years.
Public Health England (PHE) is unsure of the reasons behind the spike, but some experts have said it may be down to the milder weather over winter.
Most cases of scarlet fever are mild and can be treated with antibiotics, but there can be complications.
Dr Theresa Lamagni, PHE’s head of streptococcal infection surveillance, said: “As scarlet fever cases continue to increase, PHE are working closely with healthcare professionals to assess the impact on the frequency of complications.
“We have a system in place to obtain a sample of strains from across the country to assess whether a new strain may have emerged.
“Our investigations and assessment of the impact of this extraordinary rise in scarlet fever continue.
"Once children or adults are diagnosed with scarlet fever we strongly advise them to stay at home until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid passing on the infection."
WHAT IS SCARLET FEVER?
* Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness that causes a distinctive pink-red rash, that feels like sandpaper to touch. It is mainly a childhood disease and is most common between the ages of two and eight.
* It may start in one area, but soon spreads to many parts of the body, such as the ears, neck and chest. The rash may be itchy.
* It is extremely contagious and can be caught by breathing in bacteria in airborne droplets from an infected person's coughs and sneezes, touching the skin of a person with a streptococcal skin infection and sharing contaminated towels, baths, clothes or bed linen.
* It was once a very dangerous infection, but has now become much less serious, thanks to antibiotics.
* There is currently no vaccine.