At least 30 children have died in the UK from invasive strep A since 19 September, new figures reveal.
The UKHSA, in its weekly update on the bacterial infection, said there have been 33,836 notifications of scarlet fever in the last four months while a total of 122 people across all age groups have died of the condition in the same time period.
Around 25 under-18s have died in England from iGAS – the invasive Strep A – so far this season, dating between 19 September and 25 December, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.
And the deaths of three children from iGAS in Belfast and Wales have also been recorded by the UKHSA, bringing the total number to 30.
For comparison, in the entire 2017 to 2018 season, there were 355 deaths in total, including 27 deaths in children under 18.
Strep A is a common type of bacteria usually found in the throat and on the skin.
The UKHSA said the data shows an “out-of-season increase” in Strep A and scarlet fever infections and a higher number of cases of both diseases than seen in a typical year.
Two weeks ago, a funeral was held in Belfast for a five-year-old girl who died of Strep A. Mourners wore rainbow-coloured ties and balloons were released into the sky as they said farewell to five- year-old Stella-Lily McCorkindale.
Commenting on the latest Strep A figures, Dr Obaghe Edeghere, UKHSA incident director, said: “We are continuing to see a rise in scarlet fever and ‘strep throat’ and this is understandably concerning for parents.
“However I would stress that the condition can be easily treated with antibiotics and it is very rare that a child will go on to become more seriously ill.
“Over the winter, there are lots of illnesses circulating that can make children unwell and so it is important to avoid contact with other people if you are feeling unwell, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly and catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue. I would also urge all those eligible for free winter vaccines to take advantage of these.”
Most infections are mild and easily treated but some can cause more serious conditions such as scarlet fever and invasive group A streptococcal infection (iGAS), which can be fatal.
Two of the most severe but rare forms of iGAS are necrotising fasciitis, also known as the “flesh-eating disease”, and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome which can cause low blood pressure and cause damage to organs.
Health officials say scarlet fever symptoms to look out for in your child include a 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 more difficult to detect visually but will still have a sandpapery feel.