British schools have begun writing to parents and carers to warn them to be vigilant against Group A Streptococcus, a potentially deadly bacterial infection that has killed at least seven children in recent weeks following a rise in cases.
The bacteria (Streptococcus pyogenes) can linger in the throat and on the skin and cause many different illnesses if transmitted through sneezing or physical contact, including impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.
While the vast majority of infections prove relatively mild, the bacteria can also sometimes cause a life-threatening illness known as invasive Group A Streptococcal (iGAS) disease, whose symptoms include high fever, severe muscle aches, localised muscle tenderness and redness at the site of a wound.
According to UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data, there have been 2.3 cases of invasive disease per 100,000 children aged one to four this year in England, compared with an average of 0.5 in the pre-pandemic seasons (2017 to 2019).
There have also been 1.1 cases per 100,000 children aged five to nine compared with the pre-pandemic average of 0.3.
One letter sent to parents, seen by The Independent, cited NHS advice on spotting the symptoms of resulting conditions like scarlet fever and strep throat and pointed out that youngsters who have previously contracted chickenpox or the flu are more likely to be vulnerable to Strep A infections.
“Children who have had chickenpox or influenza (‘flu) recently are more likely to develop more serious infection during an outbreak of scarlet fever and so parents should remain vigilant for symptoms such as a persistent high fever, cellulitis (skin infection) and arthritis (joint pain and swelling),” it read.
“If you are concerned for any reason please seek medical assistance immediately.”
Chickenpox increases the risk of a child contracting an infection because it damages the skin and can leave open lesions, according to the experts, while the flu leads to increased coughing and sneezing, raising the risk of the bacteria being spread around.
The letter warns parents to contact their GP or call NHS 111 if their child falls ill or feels unwell, to keep them off school until they are better and to practise good hand hygiene and use tissues to shield coughs and colds.