Advice about Scarlet Fever and Group A streptococcus

By Nicola Cretney

6th Dec 2022 | Local News

There has been a lot in the news over the last few days about an increase in cases in children of an invasive type of infection called Group A streptococcus. Sadly, a number of young children have died from this infection. 

We know that many parents are concerned about what they are reading and hearing in the news, so we wanted to share national advice with you and hopefully help alleviate concern, but also make you aware of when to seek medical help. 

This short YouTube video is very helpful in explaining in an easy to understand way the things you need to know about Group A streptococcus, scarlet fever, signs and symptoms, when to seek help and why a GP might not prescribe antibiotics and we would encourage you to watch it: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTCErNyzmHA

If you prefer to see a written explanation, please read on. 

What is Group A streptococcus? 

Group A streptococcus (GAS) is a common bacteria. Lots of us carry it in our throats and on our skin and it doesn't always result in illness. However, it does cause a number of infections, some mild and some more serious.

Scarlet fever is one example of the infections Group A streptococcus can cause and it is scarlet fever that has been very much in the headlines very the last few days. It is usually a mild illness, but it is highly infectious. Most children will recover well from scarlet fever. 

Other respiratory and skin infections caused by Group A streptococcus include strep throat and impetigo.

On very rare occasions, the Group A streptococcus bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause an illness called invasive Group A strep (which gets shortened to 'iGAS'). While still uncommon, there has been an increase in invasive Group A strep cases this year, particularly in children under 10.

How can we prevent the spread of Group A streptococcus? 

  • As with many other infections, good hand and respiratory hygiene are important for stopping the spread of Group A streptococcus. 
  • We should all be practising good hand hygiene all the time. Teach your child how to wash their hands properly with soap for 20 seconds. 
  • Encourage them to use a tissue to catch coughs and sneezes.
  • Keep away from other people when feeling unwell as this helps reduce the risk of picking up or spreading infections.

What symptoms should I look out for in my child? 

Your child may experience a sore throat, headache and fever. These symptoms alone do not mean your child has Group A streptococcus and it may be that they have one of the many other viruses currently circulating in our community. 

One of the main infections being discussed in the media at the moment is scarlet fever and the key things to look out for with scarlet fever are: 

  • A fine, pinkish or red body rash with a sandpapery feel. The rash can be more difficult to detect visually on darker skin but will still feel like sandpaper
  • Something we call 'strawberry tongue', where their tongue is swollen, red and bumpy 
  • It may also be possible to see streaked, infected tonsils 

When to seek medical help? 

As a parent, if you feel that your child seems seriously unwell, you should trust your own judgement and seek medical help

Please contact your GP practice or NHS 111 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

Further information

Click here for further information about scarlet fever.

Click here to read the full UK Health Security Agency blog 'Group Strep A - what you need to know' which we have summarised in this update. 

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