Public health officials in England have warned that there has been an increase this year in the number of cases of serious infections caused by group A streptococci in children.
Cases of scarlet fever reported by general practices in England are “higher than normal for this point in the season”, after remaining elevated later in the previous season than expected.
“We are seeing a higher number of cases of Group A strep this year than usual”
In addition, primary care notifications of invasive group A streptococcus (iGAS) disease are “following a similar trend and are slightly higher than expected for this time of year”.
The UK Health Security Agency issued an update today on both infections that are caused by bacteria called group A streptococci (group A strep).
Parents are being advised to talk to a health professional if their child is showing signs of deteriorating after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat, or a respiratory infection.
There were 851 cases of scarlet fever reported in the week starting 14 November, compared to an average of 186 for the preceding years, said the UKHSA in its latest update.
The report – Group A streptococcal infections: report on seasonal activity in England, 2022 to 2023 – said a total of 4,622 scarlet fever cases were reported between 12 September and 14 November.
The Scarlet fever notifications to date showed “considerable variation” across England, ranging between 3.9 per 100,000 of the population in London and 13 per 100,000 in the North West.
“Scarlet fever is usually a mild illness, but it is highly infectious,” noted a statement on the latest figures from the UKHSA.
“Look out for symptoms…, which 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,” it said.
In very rare occasions, the UKHSA statement highlighted that the group A strep bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause iGAS.
“While still uncommon, there has been an increase in invasive Group A strep cases this year, particularly in children under 10,” it said.
There were 2.3 cases per 100,000 children aged one to four years, compared to an average of 0.5 in the pre-pandemic seasons, 2017-19.
In addition, there were 1.1 cases per 100,000 children aged five to nine years, compared to the pre-pandemic average of 0.3 at the same time of the year.
So far this season, there have been five recorded deaths within seven days of an iGAS diagnosis in children under 10 in England, according to the report.
In comparison, during the last high season for Group A Strep infection – 2017 to 2018 – there were four deaths in children under 10 in the equivalent period, said the report.
It stated: “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.”
Dr Colin Brown, deputy director of the 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.
“In very rare circumstances, this bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness – called invasive Group A strep (iGAS).
“This is still uncommon; however, it is important that parents are on the lookout for symptoms and see a doctor as quickly as possible.”