Deadly scarlet fever causing Strep A killing children in UK, know details

There has been a rise in rare invasive Group A strep particularly in children under 10. The bacteria can cause many different infections.

An invasive form of the Strep A bacterial infection has spread across the UK in recent months. Parents are understandably concerned about the number of rising cases. Streptococcal pharyngitis or strep throat or scarlet fever is a disease caused by bacteria called ‘Group A Streptococcus’. Strep throat damages the throat and tonsils.

There has been a rise in rare invasive Group A strep this year, particularly in children under 10, the UK Health Security Agency has said. Group A strep bacteria can cause many different infections, ranging from minor illnesses to deadly diseases.

The range of illnesses includes the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat. While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, sometimes the bacteria cause a life-threatening illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease.

Bacteria cause scarlet fever

Bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep) cause scarlet fever. These bacteria are also the cause of strep throat. The bacteria sometimes make a toxin (poison), which causes a rash — the “scarlet” of scarlet fever.

How you get scarlet fever

Group A strep bacteria are very contagious. Generally, people spread the bacteria to others through

  • Respiratory droplets
  • Direct contact

It usually takes two to five days for someone exposed to group A strep bacteria to become sick with strep throat or scarlet fever.

Respiratory droplets

Group A strep bacteria often live in the nose and throat. People who are infected spread the bacteria by talking, coughing, or sneezing, which creates respiratory droplets that contain the bacteria.

People can get sick if they:

  • Breathe in respiratory droplets that contain the bacteria
  • Touch something with those droplets on it and then touch their mouth or nose
  • Drink from the same glass or eat from the same plate as a person infected with group A strep

Common symptoms of scarlet fever

  • Very red, sore throat
  • Fever (101°F or higher) or chills
  • Whitish coating on the tongue early in the illness
  • “Strawberry” (red and bumpy) tongue
  • Red skin rash that has a sandpaper feel
  • Bright red skin in the creases of the underarm, elbow, and groin
  • Swollen glands in the neck

Other general symptoms:

  • Headache or body aches
  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain

Cases likely to rise

Parents need to be vigilant – that is the message from health officials and local doctors.

While those looking after children may be nervous about this unfolding story, most cases are mild.

The UK is experiencing an outbreak because for two years during the Covid pandemic, children didn’t mix as much and their systems are not immune to a number of different infections.

There is a warning that the number of cases of both strep A and scarlet fever will rise in the coming weeks.

It is highly contagious so the advice from experts is keep sick children at home.

Parents of children who deteriorate quickly should seek urgent medical advice.


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