The UK government has urged parents to be vigilant for signs of a rare invasive form of strep A infection, after it was reported that a 12-year-old schoolboy from London was the latest person to have died after contracting it.
Nadhim Zahawi, a cabinet minister, said that although most cases of strep A were mild, parents should be mindful of the symptoms.
“It is really important to be vigilant because in the very rare circumstance that it becomes serious then it needs urgent treatment,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday. “In most cases it will be a mild case of strep but it is highly infectious, which is why I think the important message to get across this morning is parents should look out for the symptoms, so fever, headache, skin rash.”
It was reported on Saturday that a 12-year-old year 8 pupil from a school in south London had died after developing the infection, which would take the total number of deaths from the infection to seven.
On Friday, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed that six children under 10 had died after contracting a strep A infection since September, as it issued a rare alert after a rise in cases across the country.
Other confirmed deaths of children after contracting the rare invasive form of infection include four-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Ali from Buckinghamshire, who died in an ambulance en route to hospital.
His mother, Shabana Kousar, told Sky News that her son first developed a red rash across his lower back, which was helped by a course of antibiotics, but two weeks later his condition worsened and he developed stomach pains. After his death, a postmortem showed he had strep A in his blood.
“I believe parents should be made aware of the symptoms and act on it if their child is experiencing something similar,” she said.
Camila Rose Burns, four, has been on a ventilator at Alder Hey children’s hospital in Liverpool since Monday after contracting strep A.
Strep A bacteria can cause many health issues, most of which are mild. They can include scarlet fever and, very rarely, invasive group A streptococcal disease (iGAS).
The latest data from the UKHSA showed rates of scarlet fever and iGAS are two to three times higher than the same time of year pre-pandemic, and cases are occurring earlier in the year.
There were 851 scarlet fever cases reported in the week of 14-20 November, compared with an average of 186 for the same period in previous years.
The UKHSA said there was no evidence that a new strain of strep A was circulating, and the increase was most likely due to high amounts of circulating bacteria and social mixing.
Dr Helen Salisbury, a GP in Oxford, said while every death was a tragedy, the situation was not new. “There have always been, sadly, cases of invasive group A streptococcus. I think there were four child deaths in 2019,” she said. “It’s always been there [but] it’s sometimes worse.”
Salisbury said it was inevitable that GPs might face a surge in the number of parents bringing their children in as a result of the strep A concerns, and there were challenges for GPs in identifying which children may go on to develop an invasive infection.
“From a parent’s point of view, it must be really scary. How do you know whether this sore throat is just a common or garden sore throat, or whether this is a prelude to something really serious? And I think that’s quite hard for parents and to a certain extent for GPs as well,” she said.
“Even if you had all the time in the world and you weren’t pressed or hurried, it’s still difficult to tell which child is going to get ill.”
She said parents should look for symptoms that indicate an invasive infection is developing, such as a continued raised temperature, lethargy or floppiness, not eating or drinking as usual, and lack of urination.
Salisbury also stressed parents should be able to come back to their GP if the child’s condition deteriorates. She raised concerns that that did not always happen.
“I know there are places where they’re really, really short of GPs and actually getting an appointment at all is hard,” she said. “We are chronically long-term under-doctored in general practice, and when something acute comes into the news like this, then it really makes it clear.”