Five-year-old dies with Strep-A infection in Belfast

Five-year-old dies with Strep-A infection in Belfast

A five-year-old child at a Belfast primary school has died case of strep A.

The child was a pupil at Black Mountain Primary School, and became severely ill last week.

In a statement, the school said:

"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."

The passing of the child comes as eight other children in England and Wales have died with a form of strep A.

SDLP West Belfast representative Paul Doherty has said that the entire community has been devastated by the death of a five-year-old girl in the area.

"There has been an outpouring of grief right across this area after news broke on Monday evening of the passing of a five-year-old child. This is a devastating loss that has been felt throughout our community and we have seen a huge response to support the family affected.

"I’m on the ground in this area every day and there is a real sense of disbelief that this has happened, particularly at this time of year when so many families are looking forward to Christmas with their children."

Strep A infections are usually mild and can be easily treated with antibiotics.

Illnesses caused by the Group A strep bacteria include skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.

There has been a big leap in the number of scarlet fever cases.

Symptoms of scarlet fever include sore throat, headache and fever, along with a fine, pinkish or red body rash with a "sandpapery" feel.

On darker skin, the rash can be harder to see but will still be "sandpapery".

Strep A infections can develop into a more serious invasive Group A Strep (iGAS) infection - though this is rare.

Last week, the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland urged parents and carers to be aware of scarlet fever symptoms after an increase in the number of cases at schools and nurseries.

Dr David Cromie, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said:

"It’s not uncommon to see a rise in cases of scarlet fever at this time of year and we are continuing to monitor rates of infection across the Northern Ireland.

"Scarlet fever is contagious but not usually serious. Early treatment with antibiotics reduces the risk of complications and spread to others.

"To limit the spread of scarlet fever it is also important to practise good hygiene by washing hands with warm water and soap, not sharing drinking glasses or utensils, and covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. People should also stay away from nursery, school or work for 24 hours after taking the first dose of antibiotics."

Similarly, Dr Colin Brown, Director of the UK Heath Service Authority, said:

"We are seeing a higher number of cases of Group A strep this year than usual. The bacteria usually causes a mild infection producing sore throats or scarlet fever that can be easily treated with antibiotics.

"In very rare circumstances, this bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness – called invasive Group A strep (iGAS). This is still uncommon; however, it is important that parents are on the lookout for symptoms and see a doctor as quickly as possible so that their child can be treated and we can stop the infection becoming serious.

"Make sure you talk to a health professional if your child is showing signs of deteriorating after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat, or a respiratory infection."

He reiterated there is no evidence to suggest there had been a change to the circulating strains of Strep A to make them more severe.