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Be vigilant not alarmed about Strep A infections say local health bosses

07 December 2022

Local health experts are reassuring Cambridgeshire and Peterborough communities that the public health risks from Strep A remain low, despite a higher number of scarlet fever cases already reported this winter.

The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that scarlet fever cases are increasing in England earlier than expected and are higher than we would typically see at this time of year. The East of England, saw 436 notifications for scarlet fever and 39 cases of the more serious iGAS infections in the six weeks to November 20th - which was lower than most other parts of England.

Currently, there is no evidence that a new strain is circulating. The increase is most likely related to high amounts of circulating bacteria and social mixing.

Information on the signs and symptoms for parents and carers to look out for, to boost awareness and provide reassurance for have been sent via schools and early years settings from the area’s Director of Public Health, Jyoti Atri and Jonathan Lewis, the area’s joint Director of Education.

“We are aware that what people see and hear on the national news can be alarming said: Cllr Richard Howitt, Chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Adults and Health Committee, “But while there is cause for being vigilant there isn’t cause for alarm, and our public health and education teams are working hard to ensure that parents and schools have the correct information and provide support if there are any outbreaks of scarlet fever. “

“I would urge all parents and carers to understand the signs – particularly the more serious ones, so that they can act if their child isn’t responding normally. “ said Cllr John Howard, Peterborough City Council cabinet member for Adult Social Care, Health and Public Health.. “And it is important to stop the progress of all winter illnesses, that we all continue to practice good hand hygiene and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues and teach our children to do the same.”

“GAS remains a common and mild winter illness that many people will experience during childhood. The infection can cause scarlet fever that can be treated with antibiotics. It is very rare that this bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness – called invasive Group A strep (iGAS). It is uncommon but it early detection is key and therefore it is important that parents are on the lookout for symptoms of scarlet fever and see a GP as quickly as possible so your child can be treated to stop the infection becoming more 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.” Said Jyoti Atri, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s Joint Director of Public Health

Scarlet fever is common and usually a mild illness, but it is highly infectious. The symptoms to look out for in your child, include a sore throat, headache, and fever, along with a fine, pinkish or red body rash with a sandpapery feel. On darker skin, the rash can be more difficult to detect visually but will have a sandpapery feel.

Contact NHS 111 or your GP if you suspect your child has scarlet fever, because early treatment of scarlet fever with antibiotics is important to reduce the risk of complications such as pneumonia or a bloodstream infection. If your child has scarlet fever, keep them at home until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid spreading the infection to others.

Scarlet fever is caused by bacteria called group A streptococci. These bacteria also cause other respiratory and skin infections such as strep throat and impetigo.

In very rare occasions, the bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause a more serious illness called invasive Group A strep (iGAS). While still uncommon, there has been an increase in invasive Group A strep cases this year, particularly in children under 10.

As a parent, if you feel that your child seems seriously unwell, you should trust your own judgement. Contact NHS 111 or your GP if:

  • your child is getting worse
  • your child is feeding or eating much less than normal
  • your child has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration
  • your baby is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38°C, or is older than 3 months and has a temperature of 39°C or higher
  • your baby feels hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest, or feels sweaty
  • your child is very tired or irritable

Call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • your child is having difficulty breathing – you may notice grunting noises or their tummy sucking under their ribs
  • there are pauses when your child breathes
  • your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue
  • your child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake

Good hand and respiratory hygiene are important for stopping the spread of many bugs. By teaching your child how to wash their hands properly with soap for 20 seconds, using a tissue to catch coughs and sneezes, and keeping away from others when feeling unwell, they will be able to reduce the risk of picking up or spreading infections.