Sixth child dies of Strep A infection as scarlet fever cases surge

Rates of highly infectious illness caused by bacteria are more than four times higher than usual, health chiefs reveal

Jane Dalton
Friday 02 December 2022 20:53 GMT
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms?

Parents have been warned to be alert to symptoms of fever after a sixth child died from the Strep A bacterial infection amid a surge in cases of highly infectious scarlet fever.

The UK Health Security Agency says there have been five recorded deaths in England of children under 10 within a week of diagnosis of invasive group A strep since September.

Last month, a seven-year-old girl in Wales, Hanna Roap, died of the bug, bringing the total to six.

Rates of scarlet fever, which is caused by the bacteria group A streptococci, are more than four times higher than usual, with 851 cases reported from 14 to 20 November, compared with an average of 186 in previous years, official figures show.

Health experts say that during the last high season for group A Strep infections (2017-18) there were four deaths in children under 10 in the same period.

The heartbroken parents of youngsters who succumbed to the bug, including Hanna and Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, four, have paid tribute to their children.

Muhammad’s mother, Shabana Kousar, told the Bucks Free Press: “The loss is great and nothing will replace that.

“He was very helpful around the house and quite adventurous – he loved exploring and enjoyed the forest school. His best day was a Monday and said how Monday was the best day of the week.

“He also had a very close bond with his dad. He was his best friend and went everywhere with him. He just wanted to be with him.”

Hanna’s parents, Salah and Abul, said: “Our hearts have been broken into a million pieces. Our only priority is the welfare of Hanna’s eight-year-old sister and best friend.”

Mr Roap said he believed she would have survived had she been given antibiotics.

Symptoms of Strep A include a sore throat, fever and minor skin infections. Most infections are mild and may be treated with a full course of antibiotics, doctors say.

But occasionally the bacteria may get into the bloodstream and cause a rare illness called invasive group A strep, which is fatal in up to one in 10 cases. Rates of the infection have risen this year, particularly in children under 10.

Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, 4, from Buckinghamshire, who did not survive the infection (Just Giving)

There were 2.3 cases per 100,000 children aged one to four this year, against an average of 0.5 in 2017 to 2019, and 1.1 cases per 100,000 children aged five to nine against a pre-pandemic average of 0.3 at the same time of the year.

The health security agency said investigations were underway following reports of a rise in lower respiratory tract group A Strep infections in children over the past few weeks, which have caused severe illness.

There is no evidence that a new strain is circulating, they said, and the increase was most likely related to high amounts of circulating bacteria and social mixing.

Talk to a health professional if your child is showing signs of deteriorating after a bout of scarlet fever

Colin Brown

New data this week showed hundreds of children’s hospital beds have been closed to new patients amid a surge in winter respiratory viruses, including RSV.

An average of 133 children’s beds were closed last week due to outbreaks – more than five times higher than last year.

Hospitals must close wards to new patients when they have too many patients with infectious viruses and the latest figures suggest outbreaks are far worse this year than last, after the ending of Covid lockdowns.

Colin Brown, deputy director of the health agency, said it was important that parents were on the lookout for symptoms of Strep A, and if they thought they were infected, they should see a doctor quickly to prevent infections from becoming serious.

“Make sure you talk to a health professional if your child is showing signs of deteriorating after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat, or a respiratory infection,” he said.

The government agency said scarlet fever was usually a mild illness, but it is highly infectious, so parents should look out for symptoms that include a sore throat, headache and fever, along with a fine, pinkish or red body rash with a sandpapery feel.

“On darker skin, the rash can be more difficult to detect visually but will have a sandpapery feel,” they warned.

“There are lots of viruses that cause sore throats, colds and coughs circulating. These should resolve without medical intervention. However, children can on occasion develop a bacterial infection on top of a virus and that can make them more unwell.

“Good hand and respiratory hygiene are important for stopping the spread of many bugs.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in