Strep A child deaths rise to 15 in UK

Parents urged to remain vigilant for signs of the invasive infection

Five-year-old Stella-Lilly McCorkindale was one of 15 children who have died from Strep A in the UK in recent months. PA
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The number of children who have died from Strep A in the UK has risen to 15, new figures showed on Thursday.

Data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) showed that 13 children under 15 have died in England since September.

Two other child deaths have been recorded in Belfast and Wales.

Pharmacists have warned they are suffering a shortage of suitable antibiotics, although this is disputed by the government.

Parents have told The National they are concerned their children may not receive treatment in time if they catch the invasive infection or that they may struggle to obtain the right medicine.

Earlier this week, Schools Minister Nick Gibb confirmed that the government is considering handing out antibiotics in schools affected by Strep A outbreaks.

Penicillin or another antibiotic such as amoxycillin could be administered to all children in a year group affected by a case of Strep A — a move contrary to the normal advice of doctors.

Group A strep bacteria can cause many different infections, 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 can cause a life-threatening illness called invasive Group A strep.

Group A strep bacteria can cause many different infections, ranging from minor illnesses to deadly diseases. Getty Images

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.

It comes as pharmacists continue to take to Twitter to complain of antibiotics shortages, including the liquid version of penicillin, which is often given to children.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay insisted on Wednesday that checks within the Department of Health have not revealed an issue with supply of the medicines.

However, the National Pharmacy Association has pointed to “blips” in the supply chain of liquid penicillin, while the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies said pharmacists across the country were struggling to source all they need.

Since September, the UKHSA said there have been 652 reports of invasive strep disease, higher than at the same points over the past five years.

So far this season, there have been 85 cases in children aged one to four, compared to 194 cases in that age group across the whole of the last high season in 2017-2018.

There have also been 60 cases in children aged five to nine.

Since September, 60 deaths have been reported across all age groups in England.

Colin Brown, deputy director of the UKHSA, said: “Scarlet fever and ‘strep throat’ are common childhood illnesses that can be treated easily with antibiotics.

“Please visit NHS.uk, contact 111 online or your GP surgery if your child has symptoms of this infection so they can be assessed for treatment.

“Very rarely, the bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause more serious illness called invasive Group A strep.”

He acknowledged parents' concerns, but stressed that the current high level of cases was very uncommon.

“There a lot of winter bugs circulating that can make your child feel unwell, that mostly aren’t cause for alarm,” Dr Brown continued.

“However, make sure you talk to a health professional if your child is getting worse after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat or respiratory infection — look out for signs such as a fever that won’t go down, dehydration, extreme tiredness and difficulty breathing.”

Updated: December 08, 2022, 4:13 PM
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