Scarlet fever cases in the UK have apparently reached the highest levels in Britain in half a century.

It has been reported that cases of the illness are at a high comparable to the 1960s.

The disease was a common cause of death in the Victorian era, but had largely been in decline since the introduction of antibiotics.

According to the latest Public Health England statistics, there were 735 cases in the week ending January 28 (the latest information available) - up from 644 the previous week and 440 the week before that.

In south east London, there were four confirmed cases in Bexley in the week ending January 28, eight in Bromley, one in Croydon, three in Greenwich, one in Lewisham and four in Dartford.

Study leader Dr Theresa Lamagni, head of streptococcal surveillance at Public Health England, said: "Whilst current rates are nowhere near those seen in the early 1900s, the magnitude of the recent upsurge is greater than any documented in the last century.

Yet, there is no vaccine against the disease and all cases must be reported by doctors to the local health authority.

What is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is caused by bacteria known as group A streptococcus and is spread through close contact with people carrying the organism, often in the throat.

Symptoms include a sore throat, headache and fever, accompanied by a red rash that is rough to the touch.

What are the signs?

Early signs also include a pinkish/red sandpapery rash appearing within a day or two.

The rash usually first appears on the chest and stomach before spreading to other parts of the body. Scarlet fever is highly contagious and children aged two to eight are most at risk.

How is it treated?

The infection needs prompt treatment with antibiotics owing to the potential for complications and more severe illness caused by its group A strep bacteria.

How long does it last?

Symptoms of scarlet fever usually clear up in a week and most cases are uncomplicated as long as children finish the course of antibiotics.

Potential complications include ear infection, throat abscess and pneumonia. PHE said the parents of any child who does not show signs of improvement within a few days of starting treatment should seek urgent medical advice.

Long-term health problems from scarlet fever may include rheumatic fever, kidney disease or arthritis.

What should I do if my child has it?

Any child diagnosed with scarlet fever should not go to school until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment while any adult affected should stay off work for at least 24 hours after starting treatment. There is currently no vaccine for scarlet fever.