A high number of cases of scarlet fever were reported in the first six weeks of 2015, according to new figures released by PHE.
Since 1 January, there have been 1265 cases of scarlet fever reported in England. There have been particularly steep increases in recent weeks, with over 300 new cases reported in the week beginning 2 February.
Dr Theresa Lamagni, the head of streptococcal infection surveillance at PHE, said: 'As we enter into high season for scarlet fever, we ask GPs and other frontline medical staff to be mindful of the current high levels of scarlet fever activity when assessing patients. Prompt notification of cases to local health protection teams is critical to enable local monitoring and rapid response to outbreaks.'
PHE has said that cases of scarlet fever usually rise at the beginning of a year, peaking between March and April. However, this year, the rates are significantly higher than normal for the first six weeks of the year. PHE has stated that, while the increased number of cases could be due to improved notification and awareness, the figures are cause for concern.
Dr Lamagni added: 'The first symptoms of scarlet fever include a sore throat and fever which may be accompanied by a headache, nausea and vomiting. Between 12 to 48 hours after this, a characteristic fine, sandpapery rash develops, often appearing first on the chest or stomach. Cases are more common in children although adults of all ages can also develop scarlet fever. Individuals who think they or their child may have scarlet fever should consult their GP.'
Last year, England experienced a record number of scarlet fever cases, with over 14,000 notifications received by PHE. This was the highest level since the 1960s.