CHILDREN at a Southampton school have fallen victim to an outbreak of highly contagious scarlet fever.

Three cases have been reported at Kanes Hill Primary School, but health bosses expect to see more develop in the coming days.

The disease, caused by infectious bacteria, leaves sufferers with high temperatures, sickness, sore throat, a sandpaper-like rash on the chest or stomach which quickly spreads to other parts of the body, as well as causing a white coating on the tongue.

The bugs that spark the illness can be passed rapidly between people through sneezing, coughing or even just breathing, as well as through sharing drinking glasses, plates or utensils.

Although antibiotics can treat the condition, it takes up to five days after being infected for symptoms to develop, leading to fears more cases could yet to be reported.

Health bosses warn anyone with scarlet fever, which is most common in children aged between two and eight years old, to stay away from work or school to avoid spreading the infection.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said it had yesterday been told of the three confirmed cases at Kanes Hill Primary, on Hinkler Road, because the infection is a reportable disease.

No one from the school was yesterday available to comment, but a spokeswoman for the HPA said letters will have been sent to parents to warn them of the outbreak and give advice on how best to avoid the illness being spread further.

She said: “The HPA was notified of three cases, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more. Once you have seen one or two cases it’s quite likely you will see more.

“It’s quite infectious, especially in children and especially in schools, because it spreads quite quickly and they’re in an enclosed space.”

Although scarlet fever used to have serious consequences, and would previously have seen sufferers sent to an isolation hospital, modern use of antibiotics mean it is now much less likely to be so acute.

The HPA spokeswoman added: “Like any illness it can turn into something else, but these days it’s much less common.

“It is far less dangerous than it used to be.”

Anyone who suspects they or their child has scarlet fever, which typically affects between 2,000 and 4,000 people in England each year, is advised to contact their GP immediately.