UK

Five-year-old in Belfast is ninth child to die after contracting Strep A infection

A five-year-old child who attended a primary school in Belfast is the ninth child to die with a Strep A infection.

The P2 pupil attended Black Mountain Primary School, which sent a letter to parents on Friday, addressing the “tragic loss” and sending thoughts to the pupil’s family and friends.

The statement read: “To assist in supporting our pupils and staff at this sad time, additional trained staff from the Education Authority Critical Incident Response Team have been engaged and will be providing support to the school.

“A letter has been sent by the school to parents, informing them of our tragic loss and providing information on the support services available through school for our children during this incredibly sad time.

“We recognise that this news may cause worry amongst our school community and we want to reassure parents that we continue to work closely with the Public Health Agency at this time.”

Health authorities in Northern Ireland are yet to have commented on the death.

The P2 pupil is the ninth in the UK to have died with a form of Strep A.

Typically, Strep A infections are mild and treated easily with the antibiotic amoxicillin, which is used to treat bacterial infections. But an invasive form of the bacteria, known as iGAS, has increased this year, particularly in those under the age of 10.

Strep A causes scarlet fever (pictured), which can be treated with antibiotics, but sometimes the bacteria can be life threatening
Image:
Strep A causes scarlet fever (pictured), which can be treated with antibiotics, but sometimes the bacteria can be life threatening

Read more:
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms?
Strep A generally causes mild infections – why the spate of deaths now?

There has also been a big leap in the number of scarlet fever cases, symptoms of which can include a sore throat, headache, fever, and a “sandpapery” feeling pinkish or red body rash.

The Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland last week urged parents and carers to be aware of scarlet fever symptoms after clusters of cases had been reported in schools and nurseries in Antrim, Belfast, Bangor and Craigavon.

It said this follows two years during the COVID-19 pandemic when reported cases were lower than usual.

On Tuesday, Schools Minister Nick Gibb, told Sky News that antibiotics could be given to children affected by Strep A in order to stop infection.

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The schools minister has confirmed antibiotics may be given to children if there’s a Strep A outbreak at their school

Working closely with the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA), Mr Gibb said that “very specific advice” is being given to schools, which “may involve penicillin”.

Dr Colin Brown, UKHSA deputy director, told Sky News there was “long-standing guidance” that enables health protection teams to assess the situation in schools and nurseries to consider antibiotic prophylaxis for “either a group of children in certain classes or an entire nursery school”.

Following the death of at least nine children across the UK, Dr Brown reiterated that there is no evidence to suggest there had been a change to the circulating strains of Strep A to make them more severe.

He suggested that a lack of mixing due to the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to the susceptibility in children that is “bringing forward the normal scarlet fever season,” to this side of Christmas.

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