Specialists from the UK Health Security Agency have arranged for antibiotics to be offered to pupils and staff in Year 1 and 2 at a Surrey school as a precautionary measure, following two cases of invasive Group A streptococcal infection (iGAS).
Sadly, one pupil from Ashford Church of England Primary School has died and another is in hospital, but showing positive signs of recovery.
Dr Claire Winslade, health protection consultant at UKHSA South East, said: “We are extremely saddened to hear about the death of a pupil at Ashford Church of England School, and our thoughts are with their family, friends and the school community.
“As a precautionary measure, we have recommended antibiotics to pupils and staff in Years 1 and 2; the same year groups as the individuals affected. We have provided advice to the school to help prevent further cases and will continue to monitor the situation.
“Information has been shared with parents about the signs and symptoms of iGAS, which include high fever with severe muscle aches, pain in one area of the body and unexplained vomiting or diarrhoea. Anyone with these symptoms should call NHS111 immediately.”
Infection with Group A Streptococcus bacterium usually causes a sore throat or skin rash and is passed by physical contact or through droplets from sneezing or coughing. In very rare cases, the infection can become invasive and enter parts of the body where bacteria aren’t normally found, which can be serious.
Ruth Hutchinson, Director of Public Health, Surrey County Council said: “We are deeply saddened by the death of a pupil at Ashford Church of England School and we offer our sincere condolences to their family, friends and the whole school community, who are in our thoughts.
“Our school relationships team, available 24/7, has provided the school with guidance during this tragic time and our public health team are working closely with UKHSA, school leaders and health partners to take appropriate health protection measures and ensure children, parents and carers at the school are appropriately supported.”
A number of other illnesses typically circulate at this time of year and parents, school and nursery staff are advised to be aware of the symptoms.
Dr Winslade added: “We are also seeing cases of scarlet fever, RSV and other viral infections in the community, which are all fairly common among children. Please ensure that children stay off school if they’re unwell to help minimise the spread of infections and check that they are up to date with their routine vaccinations. Always contact your GP for medical advice if you are concerned.”
Notes to editors
Fact sheet for schools and parents about Group A Streptococcus (GAS)/Scarlet Fever.
What is Group A Streptococcus?
Group A Streptococcus or Streptococcus pyogenes is a bacterium that can be found in the throat and on the skin. People may carry it and have no symptoms of illness or may develop infection.
How is it spread?
Group A Streptococcus survives in throats and on skin for long enough to allow easy spread between people through sneezing and skin contact. People who are currently carrying the bacteria in the throat or on the skin may have symptoms of illness or they may have no symptoms and feel fine. In both cases, these bacteria can be passed on to others.
What kinds of illnesses are caused by Group A Streptococcus?
Most Group A Streptococcus illnesses are relatively mild, with symptoms including a sore throat (“strep throat”), scarlet fever or a skin infection such as impetigo. However, on rare occasions, these bacteria can cause other severe and sometimes life-threatening diseases.
Although scarlet fever is usually a mild illness, it should be treated with antibiotics to minimise the risk of complications and reduce the spread to others.
The symptoms of scarlet fever include a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. This is followed by a fine red rash which typically first appears on the chest and stomach, rapidly spreading to other parts of the body. On more darkly-pigmented skin, the scarlet rash may be harder to spot, but it will still feel like ‘sandpaper’. The face can be flushed red but pale around the mouth.
Children who have had chickenpox or influenza (‘flu) recently are more likely to develop more serious infection during an outbreak of scarlet fever and so parents should remain vigilant for symptoms such as a persistent high fever, cellulitis (skin infection) and arthritis (joint pain and swelling). If you are concerned for any reason please seek medical assistance immediately.
What is invasive Group A Streptococcal (iGAS) disease?
Although rare, invasive Group A Streptococcus disease may occur when bacteria get into parts of the body where bacteria are not usually found. These infections are called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease and can be very serious and even life-threatening.
What are the symptoms of invasive Group A Streptococcal disease?
The most important thing to be aware of are the early signs and symptoms of invasive Group A Streptococcal disease. These are:
- High Fever
- Severe muscle aches
- Localised muscle tenderness
- Redness at the site of a wound
What should I do if my child becomes unwell?
If your child becomes unwell contact your GP practice. Alternatively, you can call NHS111 and you should also call NHS111 if your surgery is closed.
If my child is unwell, should they stay off school?
If your child becomes unwell with these symptoms you should contact your GP practice or call NHS111 (which operates a 24/7 service) to seek advice. If your child is unwell they should stay off school until they are better.
What else can I do to prevent my child from becoming unwell?
Because Group A Streptococcal disease is spread through coughing, sneezing and skin contact, its’s important to have good hand hygiene and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues and throw these away. If you are unwell, stay at home and seek medical advice. This will all help limit the spread of other infections, which are common this time of year.