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Rare Group A strep outbreak kills 12 and infects 20 in Essex

Published on 26/06/19 at 12:02pm

An outbreak of the rare contagious bacteria Group A streptococcal (iGAS) infection in Essex, UK, has resulted in 32 cases of infection and 12 deaths, it has been reported by Public Health England.

The outbreak has spread among elderly patients who are receiving care for chronic wounds in homes and care centres across the districts of Braintree, Chelmsford and Maldon. The cases were first identified in February.

While the bacteria can affect healthy individuals, with an infection often manifesting in a mild form such as “strep throat” or a skin infection, they pose a much greater threat to those who are immunocompromised. The bacteria can be carried on the skin, but can cause real harm when it enters the bloodstream. Even healthy patients can transmit the infection without any symptoms appearing, passing the bacteria onto others – to whom it could be far more harmful – through coughing and sneezing. In particularly bad cases, the infection can lead to sepsis, toxic shock, or even flesh-eating necrotising fasciitis.

“Our thoughts are with the families of those patients who have died. The NHS in Essex is working closely with Public Health England and other partners to manage this local incident, and extra infection control measures have been put in place to prevent the infection spreading in the area,” commented Rachel Hearn, Director of Nursing and Quality at the Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). “The risk of contracting iGAS is very low for the vast majority of people and treatment with antibiotics is very effective if started early. We will continue to work with our partners in Public Health England (PHE) to investigate how this outbreak occurred and take every possible step to ensure our local community is protected.”

The CCG said that hundreds of people, including care home staff, have been swabbed for traces of the infection, while community staff have been given antibiotic treatment as a precautionary measure.

“This is still an ongoing outbreak. Unfortunately we have so far not been able to fully contain the situation,” Dr Jorg Hoffman, Deputy Director of Health Protection for PHE East of England, told the BBC. “Obviously we are hoping that the efforts of our colleagues in the NHS and provider organisations are now bearing some fruit and we will be able to contain the situation and prevent further cases from happening.

"I cannot deny that there is still an ongoing risk until we can declare that this outbreak is over,” he added.

Matt Fellows

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