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Strep A – what you need to know

Posted on the 6th December 2022

Strep A

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued a rare alert following the deaths of at least eight children from Strep A infections since September.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued a rare alert following the deaths of at least eight children from Strep A infections since September.

It comes as the organization’s chief medical adviser, Dr Susan Hopkins, warned that infection rates of the bacterial infection are significantly higher than those previously seen at this time of year.

While not uncommon, cases of the infection are much higher than normal, with some experts suggesting the spike could be a result of Covid restrictions creating more opportunities for it to spread.

Fears have been expressed regarding the impact Strep A could have on already under-pressure frontline NHS services and the potential difficulties in spotting serious cases from minor symptoms.

What is Strep A?

Usually found in the throat or on the skin, Strep A is a bacterial infection.

People can catch it through close contact and from coughs and sneezes. Outbreaks can happen in places such as schools.

Most health issues caused by Strep A are mild, including the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever, and strep throat.

While most people carry it harmlessly without even knowing, it is highly contagious and can cause serious illness and even death in some very rare cases.

What are the symptoms?

Strep throat is different from a regular sore throat and the pain can come on very quickly.

Symptoms include pain when swallowing, fever, and red and swollen tonsils – sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus.

The first signs of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature, a sore throat and swollen neck glands.

A rash appears 12 to 48 hours later that starts on the chest and stomach and then spreads. A white coating also appears on the tongue that peels, leaving the tongue red, swollen and covered in little bumps, which is often called ‘strawberry tongue.’

Impetigo is a skin infection which starts with red sores or blisters that burst, leaving crusty, golden patches.

Very rarely, Strep A can cause severe illness when the bacteria get into parts of the body that are usually free from bacteria. This is called invasive group A streptococcal disease.

Invasive group A strep disease can become a life-threatening infection in which the bacteria invade parts of the body such as the lungs, blood or muscles.

How can Strep A be treated?

Strep A infections such as scarlet fever and impetigo are treated with antibiotics. After a full 24 hours of treatment, people are generally thought to no longer be contagious.

Anyone thought to have invasive group A streptococcal disease should seek medical help immediately. Antibiotics, other drugs, and intensive medical attention are likely to be needed.

Related: Coronavirus surges – what you need to know

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