School principal expresses concern as Strep A spreads through pupils

A principal of a primary school in west Belfast has said he “very concerned” about the spread of Strep A after seeing a spike in numbers.

St Clare’s Primary School Principal Cathal O’Doherty told UTV: “I am very concerned. Concerned for them all, the whole school community from the parents to the canteen assists, the supervisors, classroom assistants, teachers, it is a worry. Especially when you hear about the cases going up and up so quickly.”

On Tuesday, 14 pupils at the school were sent home with suspected Step A.

This week, 8 pupils have been diagnosed with the virus or scarlet fever, with 10 more waiting a diagnosis.

“Because the symptoms are like flu, it’s very difficult to say it’s this that or the other,” said Mr O’Doherty.

“So were pleased to see parents be hyper-vigilant about this and seeking advice from the GP or the hospital.”

The school is just 2 miles away from Black Mountain Primary, where 5-year-old Stella-Lilly McCorkindale attended.

Tributes have been pouring in after the girl died from Strep A in hospital on Monday.

In a statement, the school spoke of its "tragic loss" and said "the thoughts of the entire school were with her family and friends at this difficult time".

She was described as a "bright and talented little girl".

In a Facebook post, her aunt said it was a pleasure to call the little girl her niece.

"She was a beautiful, sweet, loving and funny little girl who fought so hard to stay with us, she was too good for this world," she said

"Our family will never be the same again. Cannot believe I won’t see her smile again or hear her shout at me for picking on her daddy-her best mate….love you loads wee woman."

It is understood Stella-Lily became ill last week and was receiving treatment at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

It is understood to be the first death in NI linked to the current 'Strep A' outbreak.

The school said: "Sadly, the governors, staff and students of Black Mountain Primary School have been informed of the untimely passing of one of our P2 pupils, Stella-Lily McCorkindale.

"This is a tragic loss to the Black Mountain Primary School family and our school community, and the thoughts of the entire school are with the Stella-Lily’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time.

"Stella-Lily was a very bright and talented little girl and very popular with both staff and children and will be greatly missed by everyone at school.

"To assist in supporting our pupils and staff at this sad time, additional trained staff from the Education Authority Critical Incident Response Team have been engaged and will be providing support to the school.

"We recognise that this news may cause worry amongst our school community and we want to reassure parents that we continue to work closely with the Public Health Agency at this time."

The Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland has ruled out school closures to deal with outbreaks of Streptococcus A.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.