Government insists there is no antibiotic shortage as Strep A cases rise in the East

Health officials are insisting there is no supply shortage of antibiotics. Credit: PA

A rise in cases of Strep A in the East of England has led to some schools returning to deep cleaning as a way of trying to stop its spread - as health officials insist there is no shortage of antibiotics.

Strep A is a bacterial infection but is highly infectious. It can lead to scarlet fever, or the more serious condition - sepsis.

Last week there were 150 scarlet fever outbreaks across the East of England, compared to just eight in the same week in 2021.

The Beeches Primary School in Peterborough currently has several students off with the Strep A infection. 

Head teacher Tim Smith say they are taking extra precautions at Beeches Primary School in Peterborough. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"We've got five or six possible cases, which is in common with most of my colleagues in the city, here in Peterborough," said Tim Smith, headteacher.

"We're having to take the same measures in school again about reducing transmission, keeping our school clean, making sure we're vigilant as to the signs and symptoms. Everybody's very alert."

However, teachers and parents say they are concerned the antibiotics they need may not be readily available - despite health officials continuing to insist there are no supply chain issues.

At Waterbeach Pharmacy in Cambridgeshire, manager Gabriella Terrington says they have experienced supply issues.

Pharmacy manager Gabriella Terrington has struggled to get hold of oral antibiotics. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"At the moment we're really struggling to get hold of antibiotics, the doctors keep prescribing them, because there's a current outbreak of Strep A," she told ITV News Anglia.

"Lots of children are really poorly but we're struggling to get hold of the oral solution for antibiotics.

"Unfortunately the parents are having to go to different pharmacies to resource them elsewhere."

But Suffolk GP, Dr John Havard, says parents should not be alarmed as penicillin can be administered in pill form for children and there is no availability issues with that.

"Traditionally we use a syrup and a spoon but there is no reason why they can't have a 250mg tablet," he said.

"Put a tablet on a spoon of yoghurt or something sweet to disguise it, and it's fine.

"We need parents to be sensible and monitor their children closely. Sore throats and runny noses happen at this time of year. So don't rush off to the doctor with that.

"But if they're deteriorating with the sore throat, the strawberry tongue, the scarlet fever rash that has that sand papery feel on the chest and tummy- that's different. 

"But most kids with scarlet fever are fine.  The invasive one is really rare and people should be reassured by that."

The government is assuring pharmacies and parents there is no antibiotic supply issue. Credit: ITV News Anglia

What are the main symptoms of Strep A?

Strep A bacteria can cause a lot of different illness, but tends to begin with a few typical symptoms, which include:

  • A rash

  • Sore throat

  • Flushed cheeks

  • A swollen tongue

  • Severe muscle aches

  • High fever

  • Localised muscle tenderness

  • Redness at the site of a wound.

It comes as the Health Secretary Steve Barclay said checks within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have not revealed an issue with supply of the medicines, after the National Pharmacy Association claimed there were “blips” in the supply chain of liquid penicillin, which is often given to children.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "There is no supplier shortage of antibiotics available to treat Strep A.

"We sometimes have surges for products and increased demand means some pharmacies are having difficulties obtaining certain antibiotics.

"We are working urgently with manufactures and wholesalers to explore what can be done to expedite deliveries and bring forward stock they have to help ensure it gets to where it's needed, to meet demand as quickly as possible and support access to these vital medicines."

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