Strep A cases in your area as 24 children among UK dead

NHS leaders worried as cases climb alongside flu surge

Liam James
Thursday 22 December 2022 17:28 GMT
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms?

Strep A bacteria continues to spread around the country at a higher rate than normal, with parents reminded to be on the lookout for symptoms.

At least 24 children have died across the UK from invasive Strep A disease, the latest figures show, while NHS leaders have warned that hospitals face an extremely busy Christmas as flu cases are also high.

The government has acknowledged there are supply issues for some of the drugs used to treat Strep A infections.

Concern has been raised as cases are higher than usual for the time of year. The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), released on Thursday 22 December, showed cases rose 14 per cent in the past week, slower than the week before.

Infections have been found across the country, with the highest concentrations of Strep A in Yorkshire and southwest England.

Experts from the UKHSA said the rise in cases was most likely related to high amounts of circulating bacteria and social mixing.

The government has introduced serious shortage protocols (SSPs) for three penicillin medicines – antibiotics used to fight bacterial infections.

Pharmacists can now legally supply alternative forms of the medicine if they do not have the specific formulation stated on the prescription, such as an oral solution.

The SSPs, which cover the entire UK, are intended to lessen the need for patients to return to their GP for a different prescription when they cannot get hold of a medicine. Penicillin comes in liquid and pill form.

Health officials have stressed that infections remain uncommon despite the rise in cases. According to UKHSA data, there have been 4.8 cases of invasive Group Strep A infection (iGAS) – the most serious form of infection linked with Strep A – per 100,000 children aged one to four since September in England.

There were 960 cases of iGAS between 12 September and 18 December, with cases rising 14 per cent in the past week of the 14-week period. This was down from a 27 per cent rise in the week before.

Authorities keep close track of iGAS. It has a death rate of between 9 and 12 per cent of all people recorded to have been infected in each of the past five years.

Data from the UKHSA shows 21 children under the age of 15 have died in England since September.

Three other deaths of children have been recorded in Northern Ireland and Wales, taking the UK total to 24.

The overall total, including adults, was 94 by 18 December.

When looking at this year’s death toll in England, the last time there was a comparatively intensive period of Strep A infection was in 2017/18, when there were four deaths in children under 10 in a similar time frame.

Public Health Scotland said it had recorded a total of 13 iGAS cases involving children under the age of 10 between the start of October and 1 December. Welsh authorities said cases remained rare.

Dr Colin Brown, deputy director of UKHSA, said: “Scarlet fever and ‘strep throat’ are common childhood illnesses that can be treated easily with antibiotics. Please visit, contact 111 online or your GP surgery if your child has symptoms of this infection so they can be assessed for treatment.

“Very rarely, the bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause more serious illness called [iGAS]. We know that this is concerning for parents, but I want to stress that while we are seeing an increase in cases in children, this remains very uncommon.”

Between 12 September and 18 December, there were 27,486 cases of scarlet fever. The week before, UKHSA had reported only 7,750 cases but the vast change in figures reflected a delay in reporting earlier cases rather than a monumental surge in the latest week.

Health officials are urging parents to contact NHS 111 or their GP if their child is getting worse, is feeding or eating much less than usual, has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration.

They should also seek help if their baby is under three months and has a temperature of 38C, or is older than three months with a temperature of 39C or higher.

A very tired or irritable child is also a red flag.

The government has sought to ease worry over the infections, though it has told parents to be vigilant in checking their children for symptoms.

No 10 said the NHS was prepared and the government was not aware of any current shortage of the antibiotic amoxicillin, which is used to treat bacterial infection.

Asked about the recent rise in cases, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “We are seeing a higher number of cases of Group A strep this year compared to usual.

“The bacteria we know causes a mild infection which is easily treated with antibiotics and in rare circumstances, it can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness.

“It is still uncommon, but it’s important parents are on the lookout for symptoms.

“But the NHS is well prepared to deal with situations like this, working with the UK Health Security Agency.”

He said any parents who are concerned should contact the NHS.

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