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Scarlet fever

More than 19,000 children were diagnosed with scarlet fever in England and Wales in 2016.

Scarlet fever is a highly infectious disease that mainly affects young children. Although it isn't usually serious thanks to modern antibiotics, the strep A bacteria that cause scarlet fever can have a much darker side. In rare cases, they can trigger more dangerous illnesses - such as pneumonia, meningitis, toxic shock and sepsis. 

Since the 1970s, the number of scarlet fever cases had been falling, but from 2014 there has been a large and unexpected increase in scarlet fever infections. The number of reported cases in England hit a 50-year high in 2016.

Action funding is supporting an important programme of work to find ways to slow down the spread of scarlet fever – with the hope of saving children’s lives from invasive strep A infections.

Symptoms of scarlet fever

The first signs of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting.

A day or two later, a blotchy red rash develops, usually first appearing on the chest and stomach. Patients typically have flushed cheeks and can have a swollen 'strawberry-like' tongue.

Scarlet fever lasts for around a week and you are infectious from up to 7 days before the symptoms start and until 24 hours after you take the first antibiotic tablet.

Professor Shiranee Sriskandan in the lab
Professor Sriskandan (Photo credit: Thomas Angus, Imperial College London)

Stopping scarlet fever

With scarlet fever experiencing a worrying comeback, we're funding Professor Shiranee Sriskandan's research at Imperial College London that hopes to reduce the spread of infection to help lower the risk of more serious life-threatening diseases.

Her research will also help guide public health strategy on scarlet fever by finding out which antibiotics are most effective, and whether current hygiene and disease control recommendations for schools and nurseries are enough to limit the spread.

A history of successes

For over 65 years we’ve been saving and changing lives through medical research and have spent over £120m funding some amazing breakthroughs.

Today we fund a broad range of cutting-edge medical research across the UK to tackle premature birth, support children living with disabilities and develop treatments for rare and incurable diseases.