Signs of Strep A to look out for

Another death of a young child from Strep A will send a chill down the spine of any parent.

So what is the risk and why the spate of deaths now?

Group A streptococcus is a common bacterium that usually causes sore throats.

But it can also cause scarlet fever, which is highly contagious.

It’s a winter infection, but cases are higher than normal at the moment.

According to the UK Health Security Agency there were 851 cases in the week to 20 November, compared to 186 on average in the same week in previous years.

Most cases are relatively mild.

But Strep A can get into the bloodstream or other parts of the body, where it can proliferate and become life-threatening.

It’s called an invasive Group A Streptococcal infection or iGAS, and that’s most likely to be the cause of the current deaths.

iGAS is becoming more common, though, again, still rare. This year, there have been 2.3 cases for every 100,000 children aged between one and four years old. That’s compared to 0.5 per 100,000 before the pandemic.

The same increasing trend is happening in slightly older primary school age children as well.

There’s no evidence that there’s a new strain of Strep A circulating, but the reduced social mixing during the pandemic may have lowered immunity to the bacteria, so it finds it easier to become invasive.

And this isn’t a geographic cluster; the children lived far apart. So it’s not a bug that was passed from one to another.

It’s more likely that the common link is that the children didn’t get antibiotics in time.

So is this another symptom of an overwhelmed health service?

Are parents able to get a GP appointment for their children quickly enough when they develop a fever and a rash?

Are they deterred from even ringing the surgery because they know doctors are busy?

The tragedy is that it’s preventable. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria, but they need to be given at an early stage.

Signs of Strep A to look out for

That’s why parents are being urged to be alert to the symptoms of scarlet fever in their children.

The infection starts with a high temperature, sore throat and headache, which is followed by a red rash that spreads across the chest, neck and arms.

The rash can be harder to see on darker skin, or if the child also has chickenpox. But the skin will feel rough, like sandpaper.

That’s the point to get medical attention because the infection can get worse quite quickly.

The NHS is overwhelmed at the moment and there are long waiting times to see a GP.

But a child with scarlet fever needs to be seen straight away, not next week. Parents shouldn’t be brushed aside.

And if a child becomes floppy, or has difficulty breathing, then they shouldn’t hesitate to dial 999 or go to A&E.

Scarlet fever used to be a feared childhood disease because it used to kill so many.

Antibiotics changed that. They save lives, but only if they’re given in time.