Strep A treatment: Is there a vaccine for Strep A?

Strep A treatment: Is there a vaccine for Strep A?

At least 19 children have died from an invasive form of Strep A in recent weeks, while cases of scarlet fever, caused by the bacterial infection, have surged.

The bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes can remain in the throat and on the skin and cause many different diseases when transmitted through sneezing or physical contact, including impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.

While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, sometimes the bacteria can also cause a life-threatening illness known as invasive group A streptococcal disease (iGAS).

Symptoms include high fever, severe muscle pain, localized muscle tenderness, and redness at the wound site.

The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), released on Thursday, showed that the number of life-threatening infections caused by the bacterium had risen by 27 per cent over the previous week, while scarlet fever cases had tripled for the season.

Professor Susan Hopkins, UKHSA’s senior medical adviser, said BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “The latest on scarlet fever and strep A infections is that we have seen just over 7,500 reports of scarlet fever and that is probably an underestimate. We’ve had a lot of reports over the past few days, so we expect it to be even higher.

“That’s about three times as much as at the same time in a normal season. We had the last bad season in 2017 and 18.

“And for invasive cases of group A strep, we’re more than halfway through what we would normally see in an average season. We saw 111 cases in children aged one to four years and 74 cases in children aged five to nine.”

Stella-Lilly McCorkindale, 5, is among young victims of Strep A who have died in recent weeks


Parents have been urged by schools to watch out for symptoms such as persistent fever, cellulitis and arthritis, and warned children who have previously had chickenpox or the flu may be more susceptible to the infection than others.

Families with concerns have been advised to contact their GP or call NHS 111 if their child falls ill or is unwell to keep them away from school until they are better practice good hand hygiene and use tissue paper to protect against coughs and colds.

There is no vaccine to protect against Strep A or scarlet fever, although the former has reportedly gone through several early-stage clinical trials and research on the subject has been going on since the 1940s.

I also speak on Radio 4 today programme, Professor Adam Finn of the University of Bristol said Strep A has been neglected in terms of vaccine development.

“We don’t see that as much as we have in the past [but] It’s something we see fairly frequently in small bursts over the years,” he said.

“There is an urgent need to produce a vaccine against this pathogen. It is a very neglected disease that causes many problems, the most notable of which is rheumatic fever, which is a problem in many children in poor countries.”

Antibiotics are usually the first line of defense against Strep A infections and despite early government reluctance over fears the UK was facing a supply problem, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) issued two waves of changes this week of the Emergency Rules are helping to ease the pressure on pharmacies with limited stocks.

The new Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) are designed to help alleviate local supply issues with drug stocks and will allow pharmacists to supply alternative forms of the drug to those listed on the prescription.

In a statement, the DHSC said: “Demand for penicillin has recently increased due to its use to treat Strep A and scarlet fever and the increased demand means some pharmacists are experiencing temporary and local supply issues and may not be finding the specific formulation listed on the prescription.”

SSPs are intended to help alleviate the local supply issues affecting stocks of oral penicillin and will allow pharmacists to supply alternative forms of the drug to those listed on the prescription.

You can find out more about Strep A on the UKHSA blog and about scarlet fever on the NHS website.


Advice from the UK Health Security Agency on Strep A:

The first signs of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms, including a high fever, sore throat, and swollen cervical glands (a large lump on the side of your neck).

A rash appears 12 to 48 hours later. It looks like small, raised bumps and starts on the chest and abdomen and then spreads. The rash makes your skin feel rough, like sandpaper. The rash is less visible on darker skin but still feels like sandpaper.

Contact NHS 111 or your GP if:

  • Your child is getting worse and worse
  • Your child is eating or eating much less than normal
  • Your child has had a dry diaper for 12 hours or more or is showing other signs of dehydration
  • Your baby is younger than 3 months and has a temperature of 38°C or older than 3 months and has a temperature of 39°C or more
  • Your baby will feel hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest, or feel sweaty
  • Your child is very tired or irritable

Call 999 or see A&E if:

  • Your child is having trouble breathing – you may notice grunting noises or the tummy sucking under the ribs
  • There are pauses when your child is breathing
  • your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue
  • Your child is limp and will not wake up or stay awake

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