THE number of cases of scarlet fever in the area is still abnormally high for this time of year, despite the usual season for the illness coming to an end.

Public Health England is reporting 656 cases of the illness, which typically affects children, in the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire area since September. Nationally there have been 8,305 cases in the same period, more than four times the ten-year average.

There is no vaccine for the disease, so health officials have advised anyone with symptoms to seek help from their GP, who will normally prescribe a dose of antibiotics.

Dr Ayo Oyinloye, the Consultant in Public Health Medicine at Swindon Council said: “Relatively high levels of scarlet fever for the time of year, compared to recent years, continue across the country. This national trend also applies to Swindon and surrounding areas.

“Scarlet fever is a mild illness in most people and can be treated effectively with antibiotics. “It usually affects young children, although adults are not immune. “Symptoms include a sore throat, fever, headache and rash, and those with symptoms should seek advice from their GP.

“You can catch scarlet fever by inhaling airborne droplets if someone with the illness coughs or sneezes in the air near you.

“Swindon Council would like to reiterate the advice given by Public Health England that to reduce the risk of infection, and minimise spread, people should practise good hand hygiene and remember to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze and to wash their hands afterwards. “All used tissues should be disposed of immediately.”

The cause of the outbreak is not known, but the unseasonably mild winter is one possibility. “Health experts are looking into the possibility that a new strain of the illness has developed.

Last month PHE contacted all nurseries and schools to advise them of how to deal with the illness and take precautions to prevent it spreading.

Lawn Primary School, which has had no known cases of the disease, has taken a number of precautions to minimise the risk following advice from PHE.

Headteacher Kelly James said: “As with all letters we get regarding illnesses we follow the guide given to us. “All parents are sent a copy of the letter and all the staff are told as well as letters going up in our first aid areas.

“I think in cases like this then making sure everyone is informed is the key. “In the spring time we also carried out a full clean of the school to make sure that any surface the children came into contact with was cleaned to make sure the risk of cases was reduced.”