Strep A symptoms: What is Strep A infection and why there’s an increase in cases as 6 children die

Six children, one in Wales and a further five in England have so far died from Strep A. Here are the symptoms to look out for and why cases are increasing

The UK Health Security Agency has warned parents around the UK to look out for signs of Strep A after six children died. The UKHSA said that in the last seven days, there have been five recorded deaths of an invasive Strep A diagnosis in children under 10 in England and one in Wales.

Since Coronavirus restrictions have eased, there are more opportunities for infections like this to spread. In recent weeks, cases of invasive Group A Strep have slowly been increasing with figures for the disease higher this year compared to the previous two.

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Dr Colin Brown, Deputy Director, UKHSA, said: “We are seeing a higher number of cases of Group A strep this year than usual. The bacteria usually causes a mild infection producing sore throats or scarlet fever that can be easily treated with antibiotics.

“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.”

The government said that it is investigating reports of an increase in cases but added that there is no evidence to suggest that a new strain is circulating. The UKHSA said: “The increase is most likely related to high amounts of circulating bacteria and social mixing.

“There are lots of viruses that cause sore throats, colds and coughs circulating. These should resolve without medical intervention. However, children can on occasion develop a bacterial infection on top of a virus and that can make them more unwell.”

What is Strep A?

According to UKHSA, Strep A is a bacteria that is found in the throat or on skin. Multiple people can have it without even knowing and therefore may unknowingly pass it on to others who could become ill and potentially die from it.

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It’s spread much like Covid-19 - through mere close contact with others and through coughing or sneezing. This means that outbreaks of the infection can occur in places such as schools, nursing homes and more.

Strep A can cause a range of different health issues, including the skin infection impetigo, strep throat and scarlet fever. The vast majority of infections are relatively mild, but the bacteria can also cause a life-threatening illness called invasive group A streptococcal (iGAS) disease.

What are the Strep A symptoms?

Symptoms for Strep A include:

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  • Pain when swallowing
  • Fever
  • Swollen tonsils with white patches
  • Swollen neck glands
  • High temperature
  • Or a skin rash. 

What should I do if my child is feeling unwell?

The government suggests phoning 111 or calling your GP if:

  • your child is getting worse
  • your child is feeding or eating much less than normal
  • your child has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration
  • your baby is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38°C, or is older than 3 months and has a temperature of 39°C or higher
  • your baby feels hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest, or feels sweaty
  • your child is very tired or irritable
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The UKHSA adds: "Anyone with high fever, severe muscle aches, pain in one area of the body and unexplained vomiting or diarrhoea should call NHS 111 and seek medical help immediately."

In some cases, it is better to go straight to A&E or call 999, and you should do this if:

  • your child is having difficulty breathing – you may notice grunting noises or their tummy sucking under their ribs
  • there are pauses when your child breathes
  • your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue
  • your child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake