A LEADING north Hampshire doctor has explained that there is no concrete reason behind the rise in scarlet fever cases.

Public Health England (PHE) has issued a warning to parents after the number of new cases reported in the last six months increased four-fold compared to the average figures.

A total of 7,198 new cases have been reported nationwide since September last year, compared to an average of 1,836 cases between September and April in previous years. This year, 1,049 new cases were reported in the first week of April alone.

In the Wessex region, the most local figures available from PHE, the number of cases have almost doubled.

A total of 341 new cases have been reported since September last year – a rise from the 178 cases in the same period the previous year.

Dr Hugh Freeman, chairman of North Hampshire Clinical Commis-sioning Group and a GP at Rooksdown Practice, said he could only speculate about why the number of cases have increased.

He said: “It could be down to a number of reasons, and the fact that more children now go to nursery may have something to do with it. That is not to say that children should not be going to nursery.”

He added the issue was made more difficult by the fact that children often only begin to display symptoms, such as a rash and sore throat, when they are already infectious.

Dr Freeman said that the easiest way to help control the spread of scarlet fever is by promoting good hygiene practices such as not sharing cutlery and washing hands carefully.

Scarlet fever is mainly a childhood disease and is most common between the ages of two and eight years. It was once a very dangerous infection, but is now much less serious, although complications can arise, particularly in those who remain untreated. There is currently no vaccine for scarlet fever.