Medics' joint statement with advice to parents and carers over Strep A fears in Northern Ireland

Bodies representing a wide range of medical professionals have warned of a "very tough winter" and issued advice to parents, carers and healthcare staff as a rise in incfections take hold across Northern Ireland.

The advice comes as cases of Streptococcus A, which can cause scarlet fever in children, rise across the UK, including in Northern Ireland.

They say there is currently no evidence that a new strain of Strep A is circulating.

Earlier this week, five-year-old Stella-Lily McCorkindale from Northern Ireland died after contracting the infection.

In the UK there has been 16 deaths linked to the infection.

The joint statement from the Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health and Royal College of Emergency Medicine say the increase in cases is due to social mixing and high amount of circulating bacteria.

Recently, UK health authorities are dealing with outbreaks of the bacteria, which usually causes a mild infection – but can cause serious problems if it enters the bloodstream.

The matter has been complicated in Northern Ireland by reduced supplies of medications.

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.

What advice have the authorities issued?

For parents and carers

Authorities say Strep A is a 'very treatable infection'. They say that most cases are mild or asymptomatic.

The early symptoms of scarlet fever include:

  • sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting

  • after 12 to 48 hours, the characteristic red rash develops, usually first on the chest and stomach, then rapidly spreading to other parts of the body, making the skin have a sand-paper like feel to it. The scarlet rash may be harder to spot on darker skin, although the 'sandpaper' feel should be present;

  • patients usually have flushed red cheeks. They may also have a bright red ‘strawberry’ tongue.

For healthcare professionals

  • Authorities say that clinicians should maintain a "high index of suspicion in relevant patients as early recognition and prompt initiation of specific and supportive therapy can make a significant difference."

  • Authorities have acknowledge a shortage of penicillin and say tablets may need to be prescribed to children.

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