Group A streptococcus (GAS) is a common bacteria. Lots of us carry it in our throats and on our skin and it doesn’t always result in illness. Group A Strep is common at this time of year and can cause a number of infections, many of which are mild.
You may have seen reports in the media that there are currently high rates of scarlet fever, caused by Group A Strep, in the UK. While case numbers are high, parents should be on the lookout for the symptoms of scarlet fever so that appropriate and timely treatment can be given. It usually starts with a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, followed by a rash that feels like sandpaper to the touch.
The rash usually develops after 12 to 48 hours, typically on the chest and stomach first, then rapidly spreading to other parts of the body. On white skin the rash looks pink or red. On brown and black skin it might be harder to see a change in colour, but you can still feel the sandpaper-like texture of the rash and see the raised bumps.
Parents are advised to contact NHS 111 or your GP if they suspect their child has scarlet fever, because early treatment of scarlet fever with antibiotics is important to reduce the risk of a more serious infection.
Despite the increase we are seeing in scarlet fever and other Group A Strep infections, the risk of the bacteria causing a more serious infection remains very low. But we are asking parents to trust their judgement and seek care if they feel that their child seems seriously unwell.
Contact NHS 111 or your GP if:
- your child is getting worse
- your child is feeding or eating much less than normal
- your child has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration
- your baby is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38C, or is 3 to 6 months and has a temperature of 39C or higher
- your baby feels hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest, or feels sweaty
- your child is very tired or irritable
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
- your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue
- your child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake
Good hand and respiratory hygiene are important for stopping the spread of many viruses. By teaching your child how to wash their hands properly with soap 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.
Reducing these viruses through vaccination, including flu and Covid vaccines, can protect against GAS outbreaks. Getting yourself and your child vaccinated is the best way to make sure they are protected from serious illnesses.
Further information can be found on the UK Health Security Agency website.