Strep A outbreak: Seventh child dies after contracting scarlet fever - what are the symptoms to look out for?

A seventh child has died due to complications from the recent outbreak of scarlet fever among schoolchildren

A seventh child has died due to scarlet fever as medical chiefs now advise Strep A cases are “higher than usual.” The South London 12 year old’s death is said to be due to complications stemming from strep A, a relatively common bacteria that normally results in just a sore throat.

The UK Health Security Agency has reported there have been 851 cases of scarlet fever per week since initial warnings about the outbreak were reported in November. That number has exploded from the average of 186 per week before covid restrictions were put in place. There is a belief that due to lockdowns occurring and children being kept from school that immune systems in children are being affected more by Strep A.

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The UK Health Security Agency released an update before the weekend regarding the current outbreak of scarlet fever among children, citing “social mixing” and high amounts of bacteria are to blame for the rise in cases. Official data from the agency states ”there have been five recorded deaths within seven days of an iGAS diagnosis in children under 10 in England. During the last high season for Group A Strep infection (2017 to 2018) there were 4 deaths in children under 10 in the equivalent period.”

The agency was also quick to point out to parents that “currently, there is no evidence that a new strain is circulating,” though they are now monitoring the rise in lower respiratory tract strep infections, which have been cited as the cause of the severe cases of scarlet fever.

Discussing the current outbreak, deputy director of the UK Health Security Agency Dr Colin Brown said: “The bacteria usually causes a mild infection producing sore throats or scarlet fever that can be easily treated with antibiotics [but] in very rare circumstances, this bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness – called invasive Group A strep (iGAS).”

“This is still uncommon; however, it is important that parents are on the lookout for symptoms and see a doctor as quickly as possible so that their child can be treated and we can stop the infection becoming serious. Make sure you talk to a health professional if your child is showing signs of deteriorating after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat, or a respiratory infection.”

What are the symptoms of scarlet fever to look out for?

The NHS guidance has asked parents to keep an eye on their children suffering the following symptoms for scarlet fever:

Scarlet Fever symptoms. Photo: NHS. Sheffield’s director of public health has warned that the city is seeing a rise in the contagious infection which was common in Victorian times
  • Flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature. 
  • Sore throat and swollen neck glands (a large lump on the side of your neck).
  • A rash appearing 12 to 48 hours later (small, raised bumps starting on the chest and tummy, before spreading). 
  • The rash makes the skin feel rough, like sandpaper.
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Scarlet fever can be treated with a course of antibiotics and symptoms ahead of medical attention can be relieved by drinking cold fluids, eating soft foods, if your child has a sore throat, and using calamine lotion or antihistamine tablets to ease itching.

Scarlet fever can be spread to other people up to six days before symptoms develop and until 24 hours after a first dose of antibiotics is taken.