AT least six children have died and others are fighting for their lives in hospital after contracting Group A Strep.
The highly infectious bacteria is sweeping across the UK, causing a spike in the number of scarlet fever cases.
What is Strep A?
Group A Streptococcus, also known as Group A Strep or Strep A, are bacteria that can cause many different infections.
They are commonly found in the throat and on the skin, and some people have no symptoms.
Infections caused by Strep A range from minor illnesses to serious and deadly diseases.
They include the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.
While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, the bacteria can cause life-threatening illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease.
How are Strep A bacteria spread?
The bacteria are spread by contact with an infected person or by contact with infected skin lesions.
Bacteria can be passed from person to person by close touch, such as kissing or skin contact.
The risk of spread is greatest when somebody is ill, such as when people have strep throat or an infected wound.
What is invasive Group A Streptococcal disease?
Invasive Group A Strep disease is a potentially life-threatening infection in which the bacteria have invaded parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscle or lungs.
Two of the most severe, but rare, forms of invasive disease are necrotising fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.
Necrotising fasciitis is also known as the “flesh-eating disease” and can occur if a wound gets infected.
Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome is a rapidly progressing infection causing low blood pressure/shock and damage to organs such as the kidneys, liver and lungs.
This type of toxic shock has a high death rate.
Can these illnesses be treated?
Strep A infections such as scarlet fever and impetigo are treated with antibiotics.
After a full 24 hours of antibiotics, people are generally thought to no longer be contagious.
Anyone thought to have invasive Group A Streptococcal disease should seek medical help immediately.
Antibiotics, other drugs and intensive medical attention are likely to be needed.
What are the symptoms?
Impetigo is a skin infection which starts with red sores or blisters that then burst, leaving crusty, golden patches.
The infection can be treated with antibiotics.
Scarlet fever symptoms are often flu-like, including a high temperature, a sore throat and swollen neck glands.
A rash appears 12 to 48 hours later, starting on the chest and stomach and then spreading.
A white coating also appears on the tongue which peels, leaving the tongue red, swollen and covered in little bumps (often called “strawberry tongue”).
Signs of necrotising fasciitis include fever (a high temperature above 38C), severe pain and swelling, and redness at the wound site.
Early signs and symptoms of toxic shock may include fever, dizziness, confusion, low blood pressure, rash and abdominal pain.
When should I see a doctor?
Strep throat is different from a regular sore throat and the pain can come on very quickly.
Symptoms include pain when swallowing, fever, and red and swollen tonsils – sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus.
The NHS recommends people see their GP if a sore throat does not improve after a week, if they are worried or if they have a high temperature, or feel hot and shivery.
People with weakened immune systems, such as those having chemotherapy, should also see a doctor.
When it comes to your child, you should contact NHS 111 or your GP if:
- Your child is feeding or eating much less than normal
- Your child has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration
- Your baby is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38C, or is older than 3 months and has a temperature of 39C or higher
- Your baby feels hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest, or feels sweaty
- Your child is very tired or irritable
When should I call 999?
The UK Health Security Agency says it is vital that parents trust their instincts, and seek help if their child seems seriously unwell.
Call 999 or go to A&E if:
- Your child is having difficulty breathing – you may notice grunting noises or their tummy sucking under their ribs
- There are pauses when your child breathes
- Your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue
- Your child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake
Who has been affected so far?
At least six children in England and Wales have died after being diagnosed.
This includes four-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, who passed away at his home in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, on November 14.
His mum Shabana Kousar told Bucks Free Press: “He 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.”
Little Hanna Roap died within 24 hours of becoming ill, leaving behind her devastated family in Wales on November 25.
Her parents said their hearts have been “broken into a million pieces” by the tragic loss of their “beautiful, bubbly, funny” girl.
And two youngsters at primary schools in London – one in West Ealing and another in nearby Pitshanger – have also died or been hospitalised.
Camila Rose Burns, four, is fighting for life on a ventilator at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
Her devastated dad Dean said his family is “praying for a miracle”.
He told Sky News: “She needs to live, she’s such a special little girl.
“I can still hear her singing… it’s too much.”
What is causing the rise?
Infections among young children are four times above average.
There have been 2.3 cases per 100,000 children aged one to four this year, compared to an average of 0.5 pre-pandemic, according to the UKHSA.
In children aged five to nine, there have been 1.1 cases per 100,000 compared with a pre-pandemic average of 0.3.
Experts fear a lack of socialising among children during the Covid pandemic may have caused a drop in population immunity.
Currently, there is no evidence that a new strain is circulating.
How can I reduce my risk?
The best thing you can do is follow basic hygiene practices like washing your hands thoroughly, particularly when using bathrooms.
GP and TV doctor Dr Rachel Ward said: “Regular handwashing is very important to reduce spread and minimising close contact with those who have an infection.
“Pregnant women and those undergoing gynae procedures are advised to wash your hands before and after using the toilet.”
Remember the ‘catch it, kill it, bin advice’, and always throw away used tissues and wash your hands afterwards.