At least 19 children have now died across the UK from invasive Strep A disease, new figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show.
The UKHSA on Thursday confirmed that three further deaths of children had been recorded in Belfast and Wales as a result of the infection, taking the total to 19.
Strep A bacteria can cause many different infections, ranging from minor illnesses to serious and deadly diseases. They include scarlet fever, strep throat and the skin infection impetigo.
While the vast majority of Strep A infections are relatively mild, sometimes the bacteria cause serious and life-threatening invasive Group A Streptococcal disease.
It comes just hours after the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) issued “serious shortage protocols” for three penicillin treatments amid a shortage caused by a rise in cases of Strep A. Ministers said this would allow pharmacists to supply a “specified alternative medicine” and remove the need for the patient to return to the prescriber.
An unseasonably early rise in Strep A infections among schoolchildren has increased demand for Penicillin V and amoxicillin, which are used to treat the illness.
An increase in deaths from invasive Group A streptococcal infection (iGAS) prompted health officials to lower the prescription threshold for both drugs.
The UKHSA has said there is no current evidence that a new strain is circulating and the rise in cases is most likely due to high amounts of circulating bacteria and increased social mixing.
Dr Colin Brown, Deputy Director, UKHSA, said: “At this time of year, there are lots of winter illnesses circulating that can make children unwell. Most of these can be managed at home and NHS.UK has information to help parents look after children with mild illness.
“It is very rare that a child will go on to become more seriously ill, but as parents you know better than anyone else what your child is usually like, so you'll know when they are not responding as they would normally.
“Make sure you speak to a healthcare professional if your child is getting worse after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat or respiratory infection – look out for signs such as a fever that won’t go down, dehydration, extreme tiredness, intense muscle pains, difficulty breathing or breathing very fast.”
Good hand and respiratory hygiene are important for stopping the spread of many germs and can lower the risk of children picking up or spreading infections, UKHSA said.
Infection with Group A Streptococcus bacterium usually causes a sore throat, scarlet fever, or skin rash, and is passed by physical contact or through droplets from sneezing or coughing.