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Child deaths from Strep A in UK rises to 19 as outbreak spreads

More deaths are likely, say health officials as scarlet fever cases yet to peak

Emily Atkinson
Friday 16 December 2022 03:27 GMT
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms?

At least 19 children have now died across the UK from invasive Strep A disease, new figures have revealed.

Data issued by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows fatalities in England relating to the bacterial infection have risen to 16 in children under the age of 18 since September. Three other deaths of children have been recorded in Belfast and Wales, taking the UK total to 19.

It is understood that health officials do not believe the number of scarlet fever infections has yet peaked, suggesting more deaths are likely.

Strep A outbreaks have torn through a number of schools and left hospital A&E departments “overflowing” with young patients, hitting the NHS during its busiest period time, with pharmacies struggling with localised shortages of antibiotics – and leaving parents struggling to find medicine for their sick children.

Group A strep bacteria can cause many different infections, ranging from minor illnesses to deadly diseases. Illnesses caused by Strep A include the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.

While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, sometimes the bacteria cause a life-threatening illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal (iGAS) disease.

The UKHSA said that, since September, there have been 7,750 notifications of scarlet fever, more than three times the number in the last high season in 2017-18

There have been 111 iGAS cases in children aged one to four and 74 cases in children aged five to nine. Since September, 74 people of all ages have died in England.

Dr Colin Brown, deputy director of the UKHSA, said: “Scarlet fever and ‘strep throat’ will make children feel unwell, but can be easily treated with antibiotics.

“Symptoms to look out for include fever, sore throat, swollen glands, difficulty swallowing, and headache. Scarlet fever causes a sandpapery rash on the body and a swollen tongue.

“NHS services are under huge pressure this winter, but please visit, contact 111 online or your GP surgery if your child has symptoms of scarlet fever or ‘strep throat’ so they can be assessed for treatment.”

He said parents should also look out for signs their child is getting worse after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat or respiratory infection.

The UKHSA has said there is no current evidence that a new strain is circulating and the rise in cases is most likely due to high amounts of circulating bacteria and increased social mixing.

In Wales, a spokesman for Public Health Wales said: “Public Health Wales has confirmed it is investigating the deaths of two children as possible iGAS cases.

“Due to the risk of identification, Public Health Wales will not confirm numbers of deaths lower than five.”

However the families of seven-year-old Hanna Roap from Penarth, South Wales, and a child from Powys who has not been named, have confirmed the cause of death of both children was iGAS.

Health authorities say there has been an increase in cases of both scarlet fever and the life-threatening invasive Group A Streptococcal disease (iGAS) this year.

They are currently investigating the recent increase in Strep A cases, and have been urging parents to be vigilant and stay on the look out for potential symptoms.

It was announced on Thursday that an emergency rule change to allow pharmacists to supply alternative penicillin to treat Strep A had been issued.

The government said it had issued Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) across the UK for three penicillin medicines due to high demand prompted by the rise in cases of Strep A.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) hopes the SSPs will help mitigate local supply issues of oral penicillin and allow pharmacists to supply alternative forms of the medicine if they don’t have the specific formulation stated on the prescription.

The NHS website has more information on the signs and symptoms of Strep A and Scarlet Fever. Visit NHS for more information.

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