Parents and guardians in Wolverhampton are being urged to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Strep A and scarlet fever.

The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that Group A strep cases are higher than normal. 

Group A streptococcus (GAS) is a common bacteria. Lots of people carry it in their throats and on their skin and it doesn’t always result in illness. However, GAS does cause a number of infections, some mild and some more serious, including strep throat, impetigo and scarlet fever. It can also get into the bloodstream and cause an illness called invasive Group A strep (iGAS), which can be serious.

Symptoms of scarlet fever include a sore throat, headache and fever, along with a fine, pinkish or red body rash with a sandpapery feel which appears 12 to 48 hours later. On darker skin, the rash can be more difficult to detect visually but will have a sandpapery feel. Scarlet fever is usually a mild illness and, while it often clears up after a week, it is highly infectious and can result in complications, so treatment with antibiotics is recommended.

There are lots of viruses that cause sore throats, colds and coughs circulating at present. These should resolve without medical intervention. However, children can on occasion develop a bacterial infection on top of a virus and that can make them more unwell.  

Parents and guardians should contact NHS 111 online or your GP if your child is getting worse, is feeding or eating much less than normal, has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration, or is very tired or irritable. You should also seek medical attention if your child is under 3 months old and has a temperature of 38°C or over, or is older than 3 months and has a temperature of 39°C or above.

You should call 999 or go to A&E if your child is having difficulty breathing (you may notice grunting noises or their tummy sucking under their ribs), there are pauses when your child breathes, their skin, tongue or lips are blue, or if they are floppy and will not wake up or stay awake.

Strep A is spread by close contact with an infected person and can be passed on through coughs and sneezes or from a wound. Good hand and respiratory hygiene are important for stopping the spread of many bugs. By teaching your child how to wash their hands properly with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, using a tissue to catch coughs and sneezes, and keeping away from others when feeling unwell, they will be able to reduce the risk of picking up, or spreading, infections.

Councillor Jasbir Jaspal, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Cabinet Member for Public Health and Wellbeing, said: "Since Covid-19 restrictions eased, there are more opportunities for infections like scarlet fever to spread, and cases have been increasing in recent weeks.

"You should contact NHS 111 online or your GP if you suspect your child has scarlet fever, because early treatment with antibiotics is important to reduce the risk of spreading it to others, and of complications such as a bloodstream infection. 

“If your child has a confirmed diagnosis of scarlet fever and they do not take antibiotics, they could spread the infection for two to three weeks after their symptoms start.

"You should also keep them off school for at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment to avoid spreading the infection to others."

Dr Colin Brown, Deputy Director of the UK Health Security Agency, 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.”

For more information about scarlet fever, visit NHS. The UKHSA has also published a blog with further details, available at GOV.UK.