PUBLIC health chiefs are alerting parents to a worrying increase in a contagious disease affecting Cumbrian children.

Officials are trying to combat an outbreak of Scarlet Fever that is sweeping the county and are recruiting parents to identify the symptoms early.

Thirty-six confirmed cases have been reported in 2014 so far but public health officials are concerned there may be more in the community as people may not recognise the signs.

“We tend to see more cases in winter but this year seem to have seen an increase in cases in a relatively short space of time,” said Kate Brierley, from Public Health England’s Cumbria and Lancashire Health Protection Team.

“As it’s a very contagious disease, we’d urge parents with children that are showing symptoms to see their GP and obtain treatment.

“Most mild cases of Scarlet Fever will clear up on their own, but having treatment for the illness speeds recovery and reduces the risk of complications.”

Scarlet Fever is a highly infectious disease caused by bacteria that often found in the throat and on the skin.

Spread by coughing and sneezing, it is characterised by a rash which usually accompanies a sore throat.

The bacteria which cause the infection produce toxins which also cause a red and swollen tongue and flushed cheeks.

Other symptoms include a high fever, swollen glands in the neck and feeling tired and unwell.

Dr Rebecca Wagstaff, acting Director of Public Health at Cumbria County Council, explained that there are around 2,000 and 4,000 cases diagnosed each year in England.

“Children with Scarlet Fever should be kept off school for 24 hours after the start of treatment and, during that time, be kept away from other children as much as possible," she added.

“To help prevent the spread of infection, all tissues and cloths that someone with scarlet fever has coughed or sneezed into should be washed or disposed of immediately.”

Public Health England advises people should protect themselves by:

* Washing hands often

* Not sharing eating utensils with an infected person

* Washing, or disposing of, handkerchiefs and tissues contaminated by an infected person.

* Being aware that people can catch Scarlet Fever by inhaling airborne droplets if someone with the illness coughs or sneezes in the air near them.