Every parent with a child in school is likely aware of the scourge of strep throat, the highly contagious bacterial infection that regularly makes the rounds throughout schools and households, and usually causes mild symptoms including fever, sore throat, and rash. But a recent wave of deaths due to complications from the bacteria in the UK has experts warning parents to be vigilant about the potentially fatal complications of this usually mild infection.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed last Friday that at least six children had died of strep A complications since September, and the Guardian reports that another child in the UK was reported to have died over the weekend, raising the total to seven.
Health experts in the UK cautioned that, sadly, children are always at a very small risk of death from strep complications, and that some deaths do occur every year. However, they did note that this year's total was higher than normal, prompting the agency to issue a rare alert asking for parents to be vigilant regarding the signs of potentially serious complications.
Parent vigilance regarding potentially serious complications is especially important, the agency said, because even doctors can have a difficult time predicting which cases will turn into serious ones. "Even if you had all the time in the world and you weren’t pressed or hurried, it’s still difficult to tell which child is going to get ill," said Dr. Helen Oxbury, a GP in Oxford.
Oxbury said that parents who have a child who is ill with strep should become concerned if their children display "continued raised temperature, lethargy or floppiness, not eating or drinking as usual, and lack of urination."
The CDC states that strep A can become serious when strep A causes "invasive disease," which means that germs invade parts of the body that are usually free from disease. Although the CDC has not yet issued an alert for this year in particular, it does note that an estimated 14,000 to 25,000 cases of invasive strep A occur each year in the United States, and that in the last five years, a total of between 1,500 and 2,300 people have died annually from complications due to invasive strep A diseases.