What is strep A? Dozen people die from 'very serious' outbreak in Essex

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor
Strep A infections can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. [Photo: Getty]

A dozen people in Essex have died after becoming infected by a “very serious” outbreak of invasive Group A streptococcal (IGas), also known as Group A strep or strep A.

Some 32 people across the region are said to be infected with the rare and potentially life-threatening infection.

In a report from the Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Dr Jorg Hoffman, deputy director of health protection for PHE East of England, described the outbreak as a “very serious situation”.

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He said the outbreak is “ongoing” and has not yet been fully contained.

But what is Strep A – and how do you avoid getting it yourself?

Strep A explained

A streptocaccal infection is any infection caused by the streptococcus bacteria, according to the NHS Direct Wales website.

Strep A is one group of such infections.

“Strep A can be spread through sneezing, kissing and skin contact,” Dr. Jane Leonard tells Yahoo UK.

“It can cause a variety of infections including strep throat, pneumonia and scarlet fever, and in rare cases it can develop into rheumatic fever, necrotising fasciitis, or flesh-eating disease,” she adds.

Minor strep A infections can include:

  • Throat infections (also known as “strep throat”) and tonsilitis, which are associated with a sore throat, swollen glands and discomfort when swallowing.

  • Sinusitis – an infection which occurs behind the forehead and cheekbones.

  • Cellulitis, an infection of deeper layers of skin which can cause painful swelling in the affection area.

  • Impetigo, a skin infection which causes sores and blisters on the skin.

  • Scarlet fever – characterised by a pink-red rash which feels like sandpaper.

  • Middle ear infection, associated with earache and a high temperature.

Invasive strep A infections

This is a more dangerous infection caused by strep A, where the bacteria is present deeper inside your body in your tissues and organs.

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Infections associated with strep A include:

  • Pneumonia - a lung infection which causes persistent coughing, difficulty breathing and chest pain.

  • Sepsis - a blood infection associated with a fever, rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing.

  • Toxic shock syndrome - associated with sudden fever, nausea and vomiting.

  • Necrotising fascitis - an infection in the deep layers of skin and muscle which can cause severe pain, redness and swelling.

  • Meningitis – a brain infection linked to severe headache, vomiting, stiff neck, a distinctive blotchy rash and light sensitivity.

How is strep A treated?

“You treat strep a with antibiotics and penicillin containing antibiotics are always the treatment of choice,” says Dr. Leonard.

“Macrolide antibiotics are useful for people who are allergic to penicillin such as Erythromycin.”

If you are suffering from symptoms associated with Strep A, seek medical help through calling 111 or visiting NHS 111.