Parents are being warned to look out for Strep A in kids – a relatively common bacterial infection that causes sore throats and scarlet fever. It comes after nine children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland under the age of 12 have died from rare complications of Strep A – where bacteria enters the bloodstream and causes more serious infections – in the last few months alone.
In light of this, and with Strep A cases currently over four times higher than they have been in previous winters, the UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) is warning parents to be aware of this particular infection and the key symptoms that make it stand out from all the other winter viruses going round at the moment.
ZoomDoc’s Chief Medical Office and dad of three, Dr Kenny Livingstone is also raising awareness of Strep A, urging parents to trust their instincts when it comes to their kids’ health.
‘There’s no doubt that this rise and spread of Strep A infections in children is concerning for both parents and doctors. If your child is unwell and either isn’t getting better or is getting worse from any upper respiratory infection, always pick up the phone to get advice or an appointment with your doctor or healthcare professional. Trust your gut – especially because scarlet fever and strep A are easily treated with antibiotics, when picked up early,’ says Dr Kenny.
So from signs and symptoms, to when to see the doctor, here’s what parents need to know right now.
What exactly is Strep A?
Strep A is a bacteria (Group A streptococcus) that can be found on the skin and in the throat. It can often go unnoticed but can also cause mild, treatable skin or throat infections like scarlet fever, tonsillitis or impetigo, which you’ve probably heard of – or your child’s possibly even had at some point.
But, on rare occasions, Strep A can get into the bloodstream and cause something called invasive Group A strep (iGAS). Two of the most severe types of invasive disease are necrotising fasciitis and toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which can both be fatal.
The UKHSA says that although cases of this more severe Strep A infection are ‘still uncommon, there has been an increase in invasive Group A strep cases this year, particularly in children under 10.’
That’s why health experts are making sure it’s on parents’ radar so they can look out for symptoms and get their child treated in the early stages, before it becomes serious.
Signs and symptoms of Strep A
The UKHSA is urging parents to be on the lookout for symptoms of scarlet fever, which is particularly on the rise at the moment and stands out thanks to its rough, red skin rash.
- Sore throat
- A fine, pinkish or red body rash with a sandpapery feel (on darker skin, the rash can be more difficult to detect visually but will feel sandpapery)
If you suspect your child has scarlet fever, contact your GP or NHS 111 because early treatment with antibiotics can reduce the risk of complications.
Symptoms of invasive Group A Strep include:
- Fever (a high temperature above 38°C (100.4°F)
- Severe muscle aches
- Localised muscle tenderness
- Redness at the site of a wound
- Low blood pressure
- Body rash as in scarlet fever
- Diarrhoea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
Why are cases of Strep A rising?
This is the first ‘normal’ winter we’ve had since lockdowns began in 2020 with no restrictions at all. Investigations are ongoing but the UKHSA believes the increase in cases this winter is ‘most likely related to high amounts of circulating bacteria and social mixing.’
Microbiologist Dr Simon Clarke, from the University of Reading agrees and told Sky News:
‘It strikes me that as we are seeing with flu at the moment, lack of mixing in kids may have caused a drop in population-wide immunity that could increase transmission, particularly in school age children.’
How can we stop Strep A cases spreading?
Something like scarlet fever is easily spread so if your child does get it, follow the UKHSA’s advice and keep them off school and at home until they’ve had at least 24 hours of antibiotics in them, and are well enough to go back.
Other things we can all be doing to reduce our chances of catching or spreading infections right now are:
- Washing your hands properly with soap for 20 seconds
- Using a tissue to catch coughs and sneezes
- Keeping away from others when feeling unwell.
When to see your doctor
Current advice from the UKHSA says to ‘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.’
Always see a doctor 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
Call 999 or go straight to A&E 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
Struggling to see your GP?
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