Two children under the age of 10 have died of a Strep A infection in Scotland, health officials have said, bringing the total number of child deaths in the UK this season to 26.
Public Health Scotland said on Wednesday that it was aware of seven deaths in total in people who had developed invasive group A streptococcal infections (iGAS).
Twenty-one children have died in England with Strep A, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), with three other deaths reported in children in Wales and Northern Ireland.
More than 100 people have lost their lives so far this season, the highest number of fatalities in five years, when a total of 355 people – including 27 children died across that entire season, defined as the 12 months from mid-September.
Public Health Scotland said the deaths seen this year, since 3 October, compared with between zero and seven deaths reported during the same time period in previous years.
Infections caused by Strep A include the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.
While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, sometimes the bacteria cause iGAS, a life-threatening infection in which the bacteria has invaded parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscle or lungs.
Scotland’s health secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Every death is a tragedy, particularly those of young children, my thoughts with families and loved ones affected.”
“Thankfully most cases of Strep A present as mild illness and can be treated with antibiotics,” Mr Yousaf said, adding that he was working with the UK government to ensure adequate supplies.
“Where localised shortages of first-line treatments occur there are alternative and effective antibiotics available.”
Public Health Scotland said that in the seven days to Christmas there were 869 laboratory reports of Strep A, a reduction from 1,079 the previous week.
This compares with between 300 and 480 reports per week during peaks observed in the period since 2016.
But despite the increase of Strep A in recent weeks, levels of more serious iGAS infections for 2022 have been generally stable and similar to previous years in Scotland, Holyrood’s health agency said.
In the week to Christmas, there were 15 iGAS cases reported across all age groups, up from 13 the previous week. This compares with between 12 and 18 cases per week during peaks observed in previous years.
Between 3 October and Christmas Day this year, Public Health Scotland has received 20 reports of iGAS cases in children under 10.
Additional reporting by PA