Less mixing due to COVID pandemic could be behind increased Strep A infections, says expert, after six children die | UK News
A leading expert has suggested that less mixing among children due to the pandemic could reduce immunity to infections like Strep A.
Six children have died in the UK after being found to have the bacteria and there have been more cases than usual this year.
Most Streptococcus A cases are relatively mild and cause scarlet fever with symptoms such as sore throat and rash – which can be treated normally with antibiotics.
However, bacteria can sometimes get into the bloodstream or other parts of the body and become “invasive” and life-threatening.
Microbiologist Dr Simon Clarke, from the University of Reading, said he did not know of any evidence of the new strain but suggested that the COVID pandemic may have contributed to the increase in cases.
Dr Clarke said: “I’ve found that when we’re seeing flu at the moment, the lack of contact between children may have caused a decline in immunity across the country. population, this may increase transmission, especially among school-age children.
He said the cases do not appear to be linked – they are not clustered around any one region – but he believes “further cases in the coming weeks and months” are likely.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on Friday confirmed that invasive Strep A infections (known as iGAS) have increased this year.
This year’s rate is 2.3 cases per 100,000 children aged 1 to 4, compared with an average of 0.5 cases in pre-pandemic seasons (2017 to 2019).
Among children aged 5 to 9, the rate is 1.1 cases per 100,000 children, compared with the pre-pandemic average of 0.3.
Strep A is common and usually causes mild infections – so why are there so many deaths today?
Another death of a small child from Strep A would send chills down any parent’s spine.
So what is the risk and why mass deaths now?
Group A strep is a common bacteria that usually causes relatively mild infections, such as sore throats.
Only rarely does this bug enter the bloodstream or some other place in the body where it would normally not be found, multiplying rapidly and causing more serious problems.
Doctors call it invasive Group A Strep, or iGAS, and that appears to be the cause of these deaths.
There are many different strains of Strep A, and some are more likely to cause serious illness.
We still don’t know if a specific strain is involved in these deaths.
But this is not a geographic cluster; children living far apart. So it is not an error that is passed from one person to another.
Most likely the common link is that the child is not getting antibiotics on time.
Read more analysis by Thomas Moore here
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms?
Strep A is common – so why the mass of deaths?
UKHSA also said there was no evidence of a new strain and the increase was “most likely related to high circulating bacteria and social mixing”.
It said five children in England have died this season within a week of invasive Strep A, while one child has also died in Wales.
During the last peak season (2017-2018), the agency said there were four deaths in the UK over the same period.
Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, four, from High Wycombe, was one of the victims. He was described as a “wonderful, kind, smiley and energetic boy” on the JustGiving page set up in his memory.
It was also confirmed on Friday that a child from Ealing in west London had died.
Dr Yimmy Chow, from UKHSA, said: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the death of a child at St John’s Primary School, and our condolences to his family, friends and school community.
“Working with Ealing Council’s public health team, we have issued preventive advice to the school community to help prevent further cases and we continue to monitor the situation closely.”
A student at a primary school near Cardiff has also died from infection, as well as a six years old in Surrey.
Meanwhile, the father of a 4-year-old girl is being treated in the hospital told Sky News he was “praying for a miracle”.
Dean Burns’ daughter, Camila Rose Burns, has been fighting for her life at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool since Monday after she contracted the infection.
“She hasn’t come out of the woods yet, she’s really, really poor,” he said.
Parents should contact their GP or call 111 for prompt treatment of suspected scarlet fever with antibiotics to limit the spread of the disease and reduce the risk of complications.
It came as The NHS also says children should be vaccinated against the flu before Christmas after a spike in serious cases in children under 5.
Figures show that flu hospitalizations among young children are almost 20 times higher than last year. This week, 230 children under the age of 5 were hospitalized, compared with just 12 at the same time last year.