Strep A: Eighth child dies with infection as London ‘tragedy’ is confirmed

A 12-year-old boy in southeast London has died after contracting Strep A, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed.

Health officials confirmed that the boy, a Year 8 pupil at Colfe’s school in Lewisham, died of the bacterial infection in recent weeks as parents and doctors were urged to be vigilant.

Richard Russell, the headmaster of Colfe’s school in Lewisham, confirmed the “devastating” news in a statement on Monday.

“This wholly unexpected tragedy has affected all members of the school community, including pupils, parents and staff. We are doing what we can to support the pupil’s family who are seeking to come to terms with their devastating loss,” he said.

The UKHSA said that it was providing public health advice and support to the school.

Louise Bishop, health protection consultant at UKHSA London, said: “Our thoughts are with the family, friends and school community following the sad death of a child who attends Colfe’s School.

“We have provided precautionary advice to the school to help prevent further cases and we continue to monitor the situation closely.

“Group A streptococcal infections usually result in mild illness, and information has been shared with parents and staff about the signs and symptoms. These include a sore throat, fever and minor skin infections, and can be treated with a full course of antibiotics from the GP.”

It came as an eighth child is reported to have died from a Strep A infection.

Alison Syred-Paul, the headteacher at Morelands Primary in Waterlooville, Hampshire, said on Monday: “Very tragically, we have learned of the death in recent days of a child who attended our school, who was also diagnosed with an invasive Group A Streptococcal (iGAS) infection.”

“We are absolutely devastated by the loss of one of our young pupils and offer our sincere and heartfelt condolences to the child’s family at this extremely sad time.”

Downing Street has urged parents to be on the “lookout” for symptoms after a rise in infections caused by the Strep A bacteria.

“In most cases it will be a mild case of strep but it is highly infectious, which is why I think the important message to get across this morning is parents should look out for the symptoms, so fever, headache, skin rash.”

Group A strep bacteria can cause many different infections, including scarlet fever and strep throat.

While the majority of infections are relatively mild, it can sometimes cause a serious illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease.

Meanwhile, the heartbroken father of “the poorliest girl in the whole of England” spoke of living in an absolute nightmare as she clinged to life on a ventilator after contracting Strep A.

Parents are warning others of the symptoms of the infection after Camila Rose Burns initially complained to her parents about her chest hurting.

The 4-year-old was dancing with friends last Friday but is now “fighting for her life” on a ventilator after being rushed to Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, her father said.

Dean Burns said his daughter’s condition got worse over last weekend and Camila went from dancing to feeling “a little bit under the weather on Saturday” and needing emergency care on Monday.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said there has been a rise in rare invasive Group A strep this year, particularly in children under 10, with five deaths of under-10s in England since September - once case has been reported in Wales.

Camila Rose Burns is fighting for her life (Sky News)
Camila Rose Burns is fighting for her life (Sky News)

Mr Burns, of Bolton, told Sky News: “When we got here on Monday, they said she’s the poorliest girl in the whole of England.

“To go from dancing on Friday night with her friends to a little bit under the weather on Saturday and then a bit more bad on Sunday, she’s basically not the same girl any more.

“It’s heartbreaking.”

There was a sickness bug going around Camila’s school and she complained about her chest hurting, Mr Burns said.

Camila was taken to hospital last Saturday where she was prescribed an inhaler and told she could go home – but her health deteriorated a day later.

Mr Burns told Sky News: “She just completely changed. She was restless.”

After being taken back to hospital, Camila needed life-saving intervention.

Mr Burns said: “We shouted some nurses down and we had to leave the room. They put her to sleep and she’s been on a ventilator ever since, keeping her alive.

“It’s the worst thing that can ever happen to anybody.”

Mr Burns told BBC News he was “hoping and praying for a miracle”. He added Camila was showing signs of improvement, but he fears “anything could take her back the other way”.

In a message to other parents, he said: “Any doubts, if they don’t look right, just scoop them up and take them [to seek medical advice]. Get them checked out rapid.”

According to UKHSA data, there have been 2.3 cases of invasive disease per 100,000 children aged one to four this year in England, compared with an average of 0.5 in the pre-pandemic seasons (2017 to 2019).

There have also been 1.1 cases per 100,000 children aged five to nine compared with the pre-pandemic average of 0.3 (2017 to 2019).

When looking at the five deaths in England, the last time there was an intensive period of Strep A infection was in 2017/18, when there were four deaths in the equivalent time frame.

The UKHSA said investigations are also under way following reports of an increase in lower respiratory tract Group A Strep infections in children over the past few weeks, which have caused severe illness.

It said there is no evidence a new strain is circulating and the rises are most likely due to high amounts of circulating bacteria and social mixing.

Prof Beate Kampmann told BBC News parents should seek medical help if they were worried.

She said Strep A caused “an asymptomatic infection in the majority of people, then there is a sore throat, then scarlet fever, and in a very, very small minority will there be invasive Group A Strep”.

Prof Kampman added: “It starts off with a high fever, very sore throat and very red tongue, which has this sort of papillae - eventually developing a rash which feels a bit like sandpaper.

“The rash starts in the elbows and behind the neck. It tends to then peel after about 10 days because the disease is caused by a toxin that is produced by this bacterium.”

Mr Burns, who feels parents should act quickly if they see their child is sick, said: “When I look back, it still just seemed like a sickness bug. She was really lethargic at times but her health was improving until she completely changed.”

Health officials are urging parents to contact NHS 111 or their GP if their 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.

They should also seek help if their baby is under three months and has a temperature of 38C, or is older than three months with a temperature of 39C or higher.

A very tired or irritable child is also a red flag.

If their child is having difficulty breathing (by making grunting noises or sucking their stomach in under their ribs) or pauses in breathing, has blue skin, tongue or lips, or is floppy and unresponsive, parents should call 999 or go to A&E.