Cases of the highly contagious scarlet fever in Sussex have doubled in just one month.

Health bosses have issued a warning after it emerged 160 people in the county have developed the illness so far this year compared to 63 four weeks ago.

It is believed the county is facing a mini epidemic, the number of cases expected to soon outstrip the outstrip the 175 recorded for the whole of 2013.

Figures obtained by The Argus show that since January, there have been 100 cases in West Sussex, 31 in East Sussex and 29 in Brighton and Hove.

The rise in cases is in line with the rest of the country, which is also reporting higher than usual numbers.

Public Health England's head of streptococcal infection surveillance, Theresa Lamagni, said: “We are working closely with healthcare professionals to try and understand the reasons behind these increases and do our best to reduce the impact of this infection.

“We would advise people with symptoms to consult their GP.

“Scarlet fever should be treated with antibiotics to reduce risk of complications.

"Once children or adults are diagnosed with scarlet fever we strongly advise them to stay at home until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid passing on the infection."

Scarlet fever is a highly contagious bacterial illness that causes a distinctive pink-red rash which feels like sandpaper to touch.

It can be itchy and start in one area, but soon spreads to many parts of the body, such as the ears, neck and chest.

Other symptoms include a high temperature, vomiting, a flushed face and a red, swollen tongue.

Scarlet fever usually follows a sore throat or skin infection and is most common between the ages of two and eight.

It is caught by breathing in bacteria in airborne droplets from an infected person's coughs and sneezes, or through touching their skin.

Sharing contaminated towels, baths, clothes, bedding, cups and utensils can also pass on the infection.

It is treated by antibiotics which must be taken for 10 days, even though most people recover after four to five days.

There are normally seasonal rises in scarlet fever between December and April each year.

Every few years there is also a notable increase in the number of cases and experts say the latest bout of infections is likely to be part of that cycle.