What is Strep A, the common bacteria that killed 6 children in the UK?
Health officials in the United Kingdom are advising parents and schools to be vigilant Strep A infections after the recent death of six children.
With Covid-19 restrictions such as masks and social distancing no longer required in the UK, infections such as Strep A are spreading more easily and cases have been increasing in the past month.
Also known as group A streptococci (GAS), streptococcal A can cause a range of symptoms ranging from mild to severe, but it is not fatal for most people who become infected.
Strep A is a bacteria found in the throat and on the skin. It usually causes fever and throat infections, and many people carry it without any symptoms. However, they can still spread it to others through coughing, sneezing and close contact.
Symptoms of infection include pain on swallowing, fever, skin rash and swollen tonsils and glands, and infection is common in crowded environments such as schools and nurseries. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes on its website.
“(The infection) is quite harmless,” Beate Kampmann, professor of pediatric infection and immunity and director of the Vaccine Center at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said in a statement on Friday.
“(But) in very rare circumstances when the bacteria produces a toxin it can get into the bloodstream and cause really serious illnesses” such as sepsis, heart inflammation and toxic shock with organ failure, she said.
She advised parents to seek medical advice immediately if a child looks “very ill” with symptoms such as fever, vomiting, muscle aches or a rash.
Invasive Group A Streptococcus (iGAS) is the term used when the bacterium invades the body, overpowering its natural defenses to enter areas such as the blood, and is more dangerous, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) explains on its website.
Although there is no vaccine to prevent Strep A or iGAS infections, antibiotics are usually effective in treating them.
“This year we are seeing more cases of group A strep than usual,” said Colin Brown, deputy director of the UKHSA. statement on Friday.
The increase in iGAS this year was particularly noticeable among children under 10 years of age, UKHSA added. Five children died in England. One death was reported in Wales Public Health Wales.
UKHSA figures show there were 2.3 cases per 100,000 children aged 1 to 4 between mid-September and mid-November, compared with an average of 0.5 in pre-pandemic seasons (2017 to 2019).
For children aged 5 to 9, there were 1.1 cases per 100,000, compared to a pre-pandemic average of 0.3.
The last period of high number of infections was between 2017 and 2018, and in the same period, four children under the age of 10 died, the statement added.
The UKHSA said it did not believe a new strain was circulating, with the rise in infections likely being the result of “circulating bacteria and social mixing”.
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