With hospitals and GP surgeries reporting huge pressures upon their services, Public Health Wales is reassuring local communities about Group A Streptococcal infection (Strep A).
Typically, Strep A causes infections of the skin and throat, such as impetigo, tonsillitis or pharyngitis, which are all usually mild illnesses. Scarlet fever is also caused by Strep A and can be easily treated with antibiotics.
In very few cases, Strep A can cause ‘invasive Group A Streptococcal infection’ (iGAS), a rare complication which affects less than 20 children in Wales each year. Although iGAS is a worrying condition, the majority of these children will recover with proper treatment.
These infections are caused by the bacteria getting into parts of the body where it is not normally found, such as the lungs, bloodstream or muscles.
It is important to note that iGAS cases remain rare, and children have a very low risk of contracting the disease. However, there has been a rise in iGAS infections this year, particularly in children aged under 10, accompanied by an increase in cases of scarlet fever.
Dr Graham Brown, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control for Public Health Wales, said: “While we understand that parents are likely to be worried by the reports that they are seeing related to iGAS, the condition remains rare.
“Cold and flu-like symptoms are very common at this time of year, especially in children. Most will have a common seasonal virus, which can be treated by keeping the child hydrated, and with paracetamol.
“Some children with cold and flu like symptoms – sore throat, headache, fever – may be experiencing some of the early symptoms of scarlet fever, which also circulates at this time of year. These children will go on to develop scarlet fever specific symptoms, including a fine pink-red rash that feels like sandpaper to touch, and parents should contact their GP.
“While scarlet fever is more concerning, it is still usually a mild illness from which most children will recover without complications, especially if the condition is properly treated with antibiotics.
“The best thing that parents can do is to provide the care they would usually provide for a child with cold and flu-like symptoms, but to also familiarise themselves with the symptoms of scarlet fever and iGAS as a precaution. It is also important that children from two years upwards are protected from seasonal flu, and have the vaccine.”
Cllr Jon-Paul Blundell, Cabinet Member for Education, said: “This is admittedly a worrying time for parents and carers – they will, of course, want to do everything they can to ensure that their children remain well.
“However, it is important to note that cases remain low.
“Even though cases are rare, we encourage parents and carers to familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms, so that they can act swiftly and accordingly if they suspect their child may have scarlet fever or invasive Strep A.”