Parent whose children caught Strep A calls for schools in Wales to consider closing early over Christmas
Richard Evans, local democracy reporter
Schools in the north of Wales will remain open as a parent whose three children have caught Strep A called for councils to consider early Christmas closures.
At least 15 children have died in the UK this season due to a rare but dangerous and invasive form of Strep A infection.
Scarlet fever is just one of many types of infections caused by Strep A, a type of bacteria that around 20% of people carry in their throats naturally.
But when the infection gets out of control, it can spread among people, especially children, and in rare cases can cause something called iGAS, a more dangerous type of infection that becomes more invasive.
Although Strep A levels have risen, having doubled in recent weeks, Public Health Wales said earlier levels were now similar to 2016.
Between January and October this year, there have been 1,512 recorded cases of scarlet fever, compared to 948 in the same period last year. Meanwhile the Welsh Government has admitted that antibiotics are already in short supply.
Strep A can also cause other types of infections, including throat, chest, and skin infections.
Joanne Jones from Llandudno thinks it is ironic that schools are not being closed now when they shut for Covid.
Joanne’s three children, Jasmine, eight, Louie, six, and Ophelia, three, have all had the bug in the last week. Joanne believes councils should consider shutting the schools.
“It just makes me laugh because with Covid, it was mainly affecting old people, and everyone had to lock themselves in, use hand sanitiser, put a mask on, only go out for essential things,” she said.
“There were big announcements on the news petrifying people, and it was apparently only affecting old people. All kids were apparently healthy (largely unaffected), and this has come around where it is affecting kids, and the kids are so poorly. It is not just like a common cold. It’s not like Covid. My children have had Covid.
“They are really ill. They are lethargic. They can’t lift themselves up. They are coughing. They are sick, no energy, sore throats, swollen glands, everything you can think of, sore chests, and there are children dying with this, and they are just letting children go back to school, go back to normal. ‘Go and do your Christmas shopping’.
“And this is children we are talking about. When it was old people, everyone had to lock themselves in with Covid.”
But councils across North Wales said there were no plans to shut schools.
A spokeswoman for Conwy County Council said: “As this subject has been in the national media over recent weeks, we have shared Public Health Wales guidance about streptococcal disease with all our schools.”
A spokesman for Denbighshire County Council said: “Denbighshire County Council has passed on guidance from Public Health Wales in regards to Scarlet Fever and invasive streptococcal disease to schools in the county.
“Schools and the local authority will continue to work with Public Health Wales and follow their guidance when responding to any cases.”
A spokesman for Anglesey County Council said: “The Isle of Anglesey County Council is working closely with health agencies and schools to ensure parents and staff are provided with relevant information.”
A Gwynedd County Council spokeswoman said: “Schools in Gwynedd are open. The council continues to work with, and follow the advice of, Public Health Wales.”
Flintshire County Council said there were no plans to close schools early due to Strep A infections.
Wrexham County Council was contacted for a comment.
A Welsh Government spokesman did not comment on closing schools due to high levels of Strep A but explained there was a shortage of medicines in Wales.
“The increase in demand for antibiotics to treat suspected cases of Strep A has led to some pharmacies in Wales experiencing shortages of stock,” he said.
“We are working with the UK Government medicines supply team and other partners to make sure pharmacies in Wales have the supplies they need.
“We are confident suppliers are working to address any supply issues; should people have difficulty in obtaining their prescription they may need to visit a different pharmacy or in some cases ask their GP to prescribe an alternative treatment.”
A spokeswoman for Public Health Wales said cases had increased earlier than normal in the season.
“Cases of scarlet fever have been increasing in Wales earlier than normal; however, it is normal to have a higher number of cases than usual every few years,” she said.
“Scarlet fever, along with other seasonal childhood illnesses that are spread when children are in close contact with each other, declined during the period of the Coronavirus restrictions, as children were away from environments such as schools and nurseries, as well as parties and other group events where these infections are often passed on.
“The current numbers of scarlet fever cases are therefore higher than in the previous two winters, because of the return to school, childcare, clubs, and other social events, and the subsequent mixing that has taken place. One thought is that, over the past couple of years, younger children in particular have not come into contact with the same range of viruses and bacteria that they might have in previous years, and their immune systems have not had the chance to build up natural immunity to certain infections.”
She added: “Group A streptococcal (known as Strep A) infection is a group of bacteria which causes infections in the throat and skin.
“At any one time – particularly in autumn and winter – around one in five people have Group A streptococcal bacteria in the back of their throat, which causes them very few problems.
“Scarlet fever is a contagious infection caused by Group A streptococcal infection that mostly affects young children. It’s easily treated with antibiotics.
“Sometimes severe GAS disease may occur when bacteria get into parts of the body where bacteria are usually not found, such as the blood, muscles, or the lungs. These infections are known as invasive Group A Streptococcal disease and may include serious conditions, such as toxic shock syndrome.”
She added: “We often see increases in iGAS infections when there are high levels of scarlet fever, but not always.”
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