Parents across the UK have been urged to check their children for symptoms of Strep A infection amid a surge in deaths in children from the illness.
This article outlines everything you need to look out for, how the disease is spread, and what to do if you think you or someone you know has contracted the infection.
What is Strep A?
Group A Streptococcus, known as Strep A, is a harmful bacteria found in the throat or on the skin. Strep A usually causes mild symptoms such as a sore throat and skin infections. However, in some rare cases, the bacteria can lead to severe and life-threatening invasive Group A Streptococcal disease.
How is illness spread?
Strep A can be spread via close contact such as kissing and skin-to-skin contact. Many people who carry Group A Strep do so harmlessly. Most people who contract the infection bacteria will experience mild or non-existent symptoms.
Contracting Group A Streptococcal disease from a household is unlikely. Washing hands regularly and thoroughly and disposing of used tissues correctly will reduce the risk. Pregnant women and those having gynaecology treatments are advised to wash their hands before and after going to the toilet.
What happens when Strep A becomes serious?
Group A Strep can cause serious infections such as scarlet fever and skin infections such as cellulitis or impetigo. These conditions are usually successfully treated with antibiotics. In rare circumstances, the bacteria can access areas of the body which as usually free from bacteria such as the lungs, blood, or muscles.
At this point, the bacteria have infiltrated the body’s immune system and the condition is classed as invasive Group A Streptococcal disease. This is more likely to happen to people who are already ill or being treated for other diseases that affect the immune system such as cancer. Two of these severe types of invasive diseases are necrotising fasciitis and toxic shock syndrome.
Who is at risk of Strep A?
According to the NHS, the following people are at the highest risk for Strep A:
- people who are in close contact with someone who has the disease,
- people over the age of 65,
- people who are diabetic, have heart disease or cancer,
- people who have recently had chickenpox,
- people who have HIV,
- people who use steroids or other intravenous drugs.
Children are also at a high risk of invasive Group A Streptococcal disease. In a typical winter, one or two children in the UK will die from Strep A. However, as of 6 December 2022, nine children in the UK have died from the illness.
What to do if you have symptoms of invasive Group A Streptococcal disease
The symptoms of invasive Group A Streptococcal disease to look out for are:
- fever (a high temperature above 38°C),
- severe muscle aches,
- localised muscle tenderness,
- redness at the site of a wound.
If you think you have these symptoms, you are advised to contact your GP immediately and seek medical advice. You should tell your doctor if you have been in contact with someone who has had Group A Strep recently. Your GP will most likely ask you to come into the surgery for an examination. If you are infected you will most likely be treated with antibiotics, however, hospitalisation may be needed in some cases.