Thousands of children could be kept out of school this week due to heightened fears of a potentially deadly winter bug.
Parents of children in schools where students have died from Strep A, which can cause scarlet fever and more serious illness, have already vowed to keep their sons and daughters at home. And many more could follow, even in schools with no confirmed infections.
In recent weeks, six elementary school-age children have died from complications after contracting Strep A, a relatively common bacteria that usually causes only mild symptoms, such as a sore throat.
Four-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Ali from High Wycombe died after contracting Strep A and going into cardiac arrest.
And four-year-old Camila Rose Burns from Bolton, Lancashire, is fighting for her life at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.
Four-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Ali (left), from High Wycombe, died tragically after contracting Strep A and four-year-old Camila Rose Burns (right) from Bolton, Lancashire, is fighting for her life at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool
One of the dead was a six-year-old child, believed to be a girl, at Ashford Church of England Primary School in Surrey.
Last week, teachers from nearby Echelford Primary School, also in Ashford, wrote to parents that two children were infected.
They said they had been advised by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) that ‘children should continue to attend school as usual and parents/carers should not be too alarmed’.
They added: “We want to reiterate that it should be safe for children to go to school normally.” But parents have said they are so concerned about the bug, which can be easily spread, that they will keep children home.
The UKHSA said last night it is up to local health protection teams to decide whether parents of children in schools where there are confirmed infections should be advised to keep them at home.
These teams would make the decision “on a case-by-case basis,” a spokesman said.
No affected school has yet said that healthy children should stay at home. According to information published by UKHSA, children with scarlet fever — in which Strep A causes a sandpaper rash — should be kept at home.
It says: ‘ Scarlet fever is highly contagious and is spread through close contact with someone who carries the bacteria. Coughing, sneezing, singing and talking can spread respiratory droplets from an infected person to someone nearby.
“Drops . . . can also contaminate hands, eating and drinking utensils, toys or other objects.’ It concludes: ‘Exclusion [from school] is recommended.’
Last week, teachers from nearby Echelford Primary School, Ashford, (pictured) wrote to parents confirming two children had been infected
But there is no advice on whether children with a sore throat – which may be an early warning sign of Strep A, but could also mean a cold – should be kept at home.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program yesterday, pediatrician Professor Beate Kampmann said Streptococcus A ’causes an asymptomatic infection in the majority of people, then there’s a sore throat, then scarlet fever, and in a very, very small minority there will be invasive Strep A’. She said children with a fever should be kept out of school.
She said: ‘It starts with a high fever, very sore throat and very red tongue. .. end up getting a rash that feels a bit like sandpaper.
“The rash starts in the elbows and behind the neck. It tends to molt after about ten days.’
Most children recover on their own, but if a child deteriorates to the point where it is “not eating, drinking, rather flat and lethargic,” parents should call 911 or a doctor, she said. Antibiotics almost always help clear the infection if given soon enough.
Last night, Camila’s father Dean urged parents who suspected their child might have the microbe to take them to a doctor immediately. He said, ‘Doubts, if they don’t look right, just scoop them up and take them with you. Have them checked quickly.’
He said Camila was showing signs of improvement, but added that she was “far from out of the woods” and that “anything could bring her back the other way.”