Parents are being urged to be alert for the signs of group A streptococcal (GAS) infections.
GAS is a common bacteria which can live harmlessly in our throats and on our skin. Sometimes it can cause mild illnesses like sore throats, occasionally more serious illnesses like scarlet fever and, albeit rarely, very serious diseases such as sepsis, pneumonia or bone infections.
Across York and North Yorkshire there has been an increase in cases this year, particularly in children under 10. Nationally, there have sadly been some deaths.
Most sore throats and coughs are caused by viruses that will get better by themselves without needing antibiotics. However, we want parents to know what to look out for and when to seek medical care.
Dr Abbie Brooks, a GP partner at Priory Medical Group in York explained: “Group A strep is usually something that is present and nothing to worry about, however what it can do is sometimes cause scarlet fever which is a common childhood infection that can be treated with antibiotics and need little medical assistance.
“The symptoms of scarlet fever include a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting and pinkish or red body rash with a sandpapery feel. On darker skin, the rash can be more difficult to detect visually but will have the same sandpapery feel to the touch.”
Dr Brooks continued: “If your child has those symptoms, the best thing to do is seek medical attention by contacting your GP or NHS 111 as early treatment with antibiotics is important to reduce the risk of complications such as pneumonia or a bloodstream infection.”
While group A streptococcus bacteria usually only causes a mild infection producing sore throats or scarlet fever that can be easily treated with antibiotics. In very rare circumstances, these bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness – called invasive Group A strep (iGAS).
As well as an increase in notifications of scarlet fever, which is above the levels we usually see at this time of year, the UK Public Health Agency is also aware of a higher number of cases of iGAS being reported.
While iGAS is still uncommon, it is important that parents are on the lookout for symptoms of illnesses caused by group A streptococcus bacteria and seek medical advice so that their child can be treated appropriately and to help prevent the infection becoming serious.
Parents should contact their GP if they feel:
- their child is getting worse
- their child is feeding or eating much less than normal
- their child has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration
- their 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
- their baby feels hotter than usual when they touch their back or chest, or feels sweaty
- their child is very tired or irritable.
Call 999 or go to the Emergency Department 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
North Yorkshire GP Dr Bruce Willoughby added: “Please don’t put off seeking medical help if your child continues to get worse and if your child is experiencing any of the signs above relating to difficulties with breathing or experience blue lips or skin, call 999 or go to your nearest Emergency Department immediately.
“Although scarlet fever mainly affects children under 10, people of any age can get it. Strep A infections are spread by close contact with an infected person and can be passed on through coughs and sneezes.”
Dr Willoughby continued: “So please practice good hand hygiene and remember to always, catch it (always cough or sneeze into a tissue, bin it (always throw the used tissue in a bin) and kill it (always wash your hands with soap and hot water).”
Please consider that emergency departments are very busy at the moment – including GP surgeries. If you feel that your child can stay at home or be seen elsewhere, such as a pharmacy, please do so.
For further information about Strep A go to https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/strep-a/