What is Strep A? Symptoms, severity and spread explained after 31 children die from infection

ITV News reports on the latest updates on the Strep A outbreak across the UK as the UKHSA confirms at least fifteen children have now died

At least 31 children have tragically lost their lives after being infected in a bacteria outbreak.

Two children aged under 10 in Scotland have died with Strep A infection since October 3, Public Health Scotland has said.

The agency said it is aware of seven deaths among invasive group A streptococcal infections (iGAS) cases between October 3 and December 25.

Two of the deaths were in children under 10.

Numbers have been rising steadily, including a pupil of Hove Park School in Sussex and a youngster from St John’s School in Ealing, west London, died from the bacterial infection, while the parents of a four-year-old boy from Buckinghamshire confirmed he had died from Strep A in mid-November.

The first secondary school pupil to die from Strep A was in south-east London. The child, believed to be 12 years old, was a pupil at Colfe's School in Lee, Lewisham.

One of the first reported deaths was of a six-year-old who died after catching the invasive group A streptococcal infection at Ashford Church of England School in Surrey.

Scarlet fever cases have also climbed massively.

The most recent data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows 21 children under 18 in England have died from invasive Strep A disease, while three deaths of children have been recorded in Belfast and Wales.

Advice on the infection, including what symptoms families should look for, has been distributed more widely in the areas with reported cases and deaths.

Ashford Primary School in Surrey Credit: BPM

What is Strep A?

Strep A is a bacterium which can colonise the throat, skin and anogenital tract.

It causes a diverse range of skin, soft tissue and respiratory tract infections.

Those carrying the bacteria may have no symptoms or develop an infection.

It survives long enough in the throat or skin to allow it to be spread by skin-to-skin contact, coughing and sneezing.

Even in cases where a person has no symptoms, carriers of the disease can still pass on Strep A as easily as those who are feeling ill from it can.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said the outbreak was of the invasive group A streptococcal infection (iGAS) Credit: PA

What are the main symptoms of Step A?

Strep A is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can be extremely serious, but is treatable.

It can cause a lot of different illness, but tends to begin with a few typical symptoms.

These symptoms 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 is spread through coughs and sneezes with cases most common during the winter period.

Streptococcal bacteria under a microscope Credit: PA

How contagious is strep A and how do you catch it?

Group A strep bacteria are very contagious.

Generally, people spread the bacteria to others through respiratory droplets, such as through sneezing, coughing or talking, and direct contact.

Rarely, people can spread group A strep bacteria through food that is not handled properly.

It usually takes someone two to five days for someone exposed to strep A bacteria to become ill.

Streptococcus bacteria Credit: PA

Are there risk factors which make someone more susceptible to contracting strep A?

Strep throat is more common in children than adults.

It is most common in children aged five to 15.

The illness is very rare in children younger than three-years-old.

Another key risk factor is close contact with another person with the condition.

For instance, if one person in a household has the condition, the bacteria can more easily spread to other members of that household.

This is why there is a greater risk in crowded settings such as schools and nurseries when one person in that environment has the infection.

People with weakened immune systems can also have a higher chance of coming down with strep A, including those with HIV, AIDS or cancer, or anyone who has had an organ transplant.

Group A streptococcal infection, known as Strep A, is a highly contagious bacterial infection Credit: Pexels

What should you do if you or your child has signs of strep A?

Those with the above symptoms should call 111 immediately.

How can you avoid catching strep A?

The best way to cut down your risk of contracting strep A is to avoid contact with anyone who has the virus.

In addition, you should avoid sharing personal items, such as toothbrushes, cups and cutlery, with unwell individuals.

Washing your and and your children's hands often and using alcohol-based sanitiser can also reduce risk.

Symptoms include a rash, a sore throat, flushed cheeks and swollen tongue. Early treatment with antibiotics is important Credit: Pexels

Is strep A unusual? Are we hypersensitive to the virus after Covid?

The recent strep A outbreak is rare according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The UKHSA's most recent report, updated on 20 September, on strep A infections found recent notification levels were below average compared to the past four seasons, but were showing a usual seasonal increase.

The UKHSA said: "While increases in severe presentations in children have not been seen so far this season, it remains important that scarlet fever cases are treated promptly with antibiotics to limit further spread, and reduce risk of potential complications in cases and household contacts."

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