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What’s behind the surge in fatal Strep A cases in the UK?

  • December 05, 2022

It said there was no evidence that a new strain of Strep A was circulating, with the increase “most likely due to high amounts of circulating bacteria and social mixing”, said The Guardian.

The early start to the Strep A infections season in the UK could be a knock-on effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the higher than average rates also linked to a drop in immunity due to lack of exposure to infection as a result of coronavirus restrictions.

How to spot it?

Strep A symptoms include pain when swallowing, fever, skin rashes and swollen tonsils and glands, with infection common in crowded settings such as schools and daycare centres, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on its website.

Parents are being urged to be specifically alert to the symptoms of scarlet fever in their children. These infections normally start with a high temperature, sore throat and headache, followed by a red rash that spreads across the chest, neck and arms.

“The rash can be harder to see on darker skin, or if the child also has chickenpox. But the skin will feel rough, like sandpaper,” said Sky News. “That’s the point to get medical attention because the infection can get worse quite quickly.”

Unusual drowsiness, dehydration and not needing the toilet as much as usual are also particularly concerning symptoms.

The UKHSA has urged doctors to set themselves a “low threshold” for sending children with potential Strep A infections to hospital and prescribing them antibiotics.

Can it be treated?

“This isn’t a geographic cluster; the children lived far apart. So it’s not a bug that was passed from one to another,” said Sky. “It’s more likely that the common link is that the children didn’t get antibiotics in time.”

While there is no vaccine to prevent Strep A or iGAS infections, antibiotics are usually effective at treating them, with Beate Kampmann, professor of paediatric infection, telling the BBC’s Today programme: “The good news is that Group A strep is very, very treatable just with penicillin.”

However, the Birimingham Mail cited Dr Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, who claimed the UK faces a shortfall in the supply of another antibiotic, amoxicillin, “the vital drug used to treat killer winter bug strep A”.

It comes after medical professionals raised concerns about how frontline NHS services will cope with a likely influx of children of concerned parents, and the difficulties of spotting serious cases from minor symptoms.

Neena Modi, professor of neonatal medicine at Imperial College London, said both GP services and AE departments were “on their knees” and that “the last thing we want is for AE departments to be flooded with a new influx of worried parents”.

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