Strep A – or group A strep (GAS) – is a bacterial infection of the throat or skin, which usually occurs during the winter months.
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UK health officials are warning parents to be vigilant after a recent spate of Strep A infections led to the deaths of at least six children.
The UK Health Safety Agency issued a rare health warning on Friday urging parents to monitor their children for telltale symptoms of the disease, which can include a sore throat, headache, fever and rash .
At least six children have died from serious cases of the infection since September, health agencies said, while reported cases rose more than 4.5 times the number seen in recent years.
What is strep A?
Strep A – or group A strep (GAS) – is a bacterial infection of the throat or skin that usually occurs during the winter months.
Although most cases are mild and often go unnoticed, they can also lead to more serious illnesses and complications, such as scarlet fever.
Scarlet fever is a highly contagious bacterial infection that mainly affects young children. It usually causes flu-like symptoms and a fine, sandpaper-like rash, which can usually be treated with antibiotics.
However, on rare occasions, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause a condition called invasive group A streptococcus (iGAS).
These serious infections can be deadly and are believed to be behind the recent wave of deaths.
Health officials have therefore urged parents to be vigilant for warning signs of the invasive disease, including a temperature above 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit).
“It is important for parents to be on the lookout for symptoms and seek medical attention as soon as possible so that their child can be treated and we can prevent the infection from becoming serious,” said Dr Colin Brown, director UKHSA deputy.
“Be sure to speak to a medical professional if your child shows signs of deterioration after an episode of scarlet fever, a sore throat or a respiratory infection,” he added.
Cases increase after Covid
Five of the deaths were in children under 10 in England, according to the UKHSA. The sixth death was reported at a Welsh primary school (primary school) by Public Health Wales.
Another death of a 12-year-old London schoolboy was reported on Saturday, but has yet to be confirmed.
Typically, one or two children under the age of 10 die from Strep A during winter in the UK
In the week to November 20, 851 cases of scarlet fever were reported in the UK, compared to an average of 186 for previous years.
Health officials said there is currently no evidence of a new strain circulating. Rather, the increase is likely linked to high amounts of bacteria in circulation and social mixing after Covid-19 restrictions ended.
“(We) need to recognize that the steps we have taken over the past two years to reduce the circulation of Covid will also reduce the circulation of other infections,” Dr. UKHSA on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“This means that as things get back to normal, these traditional infections that we have seen for many years are circulating at high levels,” she added.
The latest outbreak follows a spike in other illnesses this year, including monkeypox and a mysterious liver disease affecting children.
Some doctors are worried about the impact the latest outbreak could have on the UK’s already struggling National Health Service.
“The last thing we want is for A&E departments to be inundated with a new influx of worried parents,” Neena Modi, professor of neonatal medicine at Imperial College London, told The Guardian.
UKHSA said worried parents in the UK should contact NHS 111 or their local GP first if they notice early symptoms in their children, while more serious cases should contact 999 or visit A&E .
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