The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that scarlet fever cases continue to remain higher than we would typically see at this time of year. Scarlet fever is caused by bacteria called group A streptococci. These bacteria also cause other respiratory and skin infections such as strep throat and impetigo.
On very rare occasions, the bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause an illness called invasive Group A strep (iGAS). While still uncommon, there has been an increase in invasive Group A strep cases this year, particularly in children under 10.
Group A Streptococcus (GAS; Streptococcus pyogenes) is a bacterium which can develop in the throat, skin and anogenital tract. It causes a diverse range of skin, soft tissue and respiratory tract infections, including tonsillitis, pharyngitis, scarlet fever, impetigo, erysipelas, cellulitis and pneumonia.
In rare cases, patients may go on to develop iGAS and can occasionally cause infections that are extremely severe and sometimes fatal. Consequently, Invasive GAS (iGAS) infection and scarlet fever are both notifiable diseases and health professionals must inform local health protection teams of suspected cases. Guidelines are available for the public health management of iGAS cases in the community and healthcare settings and scarlet fever outbreaks in educational settings.
Currently, there is no evidence that a new strain is circulating. The increase is most likely related to high amounts of circulating bacteria and social mixing.
It’s advisable to look at the following areas in your organisation to help with compliance and to reduce the likelihood of infection:
There are lots of viruses circulating that cause sore throats, colds and coughs. These should resolve without medical intervention. However, children (and occasionally adults) can occasionally develop a bacterial infection on top of a virus and that can make them more unwell. iGAS infection commonly presents as a mild sore throat (‘strep throat’) and skin/soft tissue infections such as impetigo and cellulitis.
In many cases, doctors can diagnose scarlet fever from the symptoms alone. If confirmation is required, they may send a throat swab for bacterial culture to the local microbiology laboratory. In certain cases, serology may also be of value.
Good hand and respiratory hygiene are important for stopping the spread of many bugs. By washing hands properly with soap for 20 seconds, using a tissue to catch coughs and sneezes, and keeping away from others when feeling unwell and understanding the additional control contamination and infection control measures put in place staff should be able to reduce the risk of picking up or spreading infections.
iGAS is spread by close contact between individuals, through respiratory droplets (moisture in your breath) and direct skin contact. Regular cleaning routines and rigorous contamination and infection controls are key to help reduce the risk of picking up or spreading infections.
If you have any questions about how to protect your staff and business from the increase in Strep A cases, you can call our Health & Safety advice line 24/7 on 0345 844 4848.
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