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Antibiotics may be given to UK schools affected by strep A

Latest UKHSA data shows scarlet fever cases continue to be higher than usual for this time of year

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Following a recent spate of streptococcus A (strep A) reported in UK schools, minister of state for schools Nick Gibb, announced in the House of Lords on 5 December that preventative antibiotics, like penicillin, could be issued to those affected by the outbreaks.

Gibb confirmed the deaths of some children from severe infections and suggested that the use of preventative antibiotics in impacted schools “is an option”.

Healthcare experts have cautioned the public on the need for raised awareness regarding infection symptoms as levels of bacteria continue to rise. A common bacteria, group A streptococcus (GAS) is carried on our skin and in our throats and does not always end fatally.

Contagious infections like scarlet fever are caused by GAS and these bacteria can also cause other skin and respiratory infections, including strep throat and impetigo.

The bacteria can – on rare occasions – travel into the bloodstream, leading to invasive group A strep (iGAS), and though it is still uncommon, there has been a significant increase in iGAS cases this year, specifically in children under ten-years-old. In some cases, an iGAS infection can be fatal.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) updated its guidance in its recently published UKHSA update on scarlet fever and invasive Group A strep, highlighting the surge in iGAS infections, noting that ‘there were 851 cases reported in week 46, compared to an average of 186 for the preceding years’.

It is thought that the outbreak in strep A cases in the UK could be a consequence of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions lifting, resulting in further infection transmission.

Dr Colin Brown, deputy director, UKHSA, said: “We are seeing a higher number of cases of group A strep this year than usual. The bacteria usually causes a mild infection producing sore throats or scarlet fever that can be easily treated with antibiotics.”

He added: “In very rare circumstances, this bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness. This is still uncommon; however, it is important that parents are on the lookout for symptoms and see a doctor as quickly as possible so that their child can be treated and we can stop the infection becoming serious. 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.”

Given the rise in resistance to antibiotics, GPs have generally tried to avoid prescribing such treatments en masse as the build up in resistance has the potential to result in serious infections, which could seriously impact the general population.

Article by
Fleur Jeffries

6th December 2022

From: Healthcare

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