Horrified parents have been speaking out about the signs and symptoms of Strep A after a ninth child lost their lives to the deadly infection.
The five-year-old girl, who has not been named but was a pupil at Black Mountain Primary School in Northern Ireland, was treated at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children after falling ill last week but died on Monday.
Now parents whose children are either still battling the disease – which is raging across the UK – or who have overcome it have spoken out about their ordeals in the hope of helping other families spot the infection earlier.
Among them is Aimee Byron, a stay-at-home mother whose two young boys both contracted Strep A days apart.
The 22-year-old, from Fareham in Hampshire, said the first warning signs of the disease came last month, when her lad Jamie Jones, three, became tired and started screaming in pain, holding his head saying he had ‘tickles in his throat’.
Jamie Jones, three, and his younger brother Drew, 17 months, both contracted Strep A which left the pair incredibly ill
Little Drew’s mouth, pictured. showed signs of the deadly bacterial infection, with big white spots covering his throat
But Drew’s mother, Aimee Byron, said one of the first symptoms she noticed was a rash around her son’s mouth (pictured). A day later and he developed a sore throat as well as white puffy spots on his tonsils
Aimee Byron, 22, rushed both of her children to hospital after they contracted the infection, which has so far claimed the lives of nine children in the UK since September. She is pictured a couple of years ago with her eldest son, Jamie
It was covered in white big spots and doctors told Aimee he was suffering from tonsillitis, she said.
But after a few days of suffering, she took him back to the GP where he was diagnosed with strep A and taken to hospital for treatment.
What are the symptoms of Strep A? How does it spread? And is it the same as scarlet fever? Everything you need to know about the killer bug sweeping Britain
What is Strep A?
Group A Streptococcus (Group A Strep or Strep A) bacteria can cause many different infections.
The bacteria are commonly found in the throat and on the skin, and some people have no symptoms.
Infections caused by Strep A range from minor illnesses to serious and deadly diseases.
They include the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.
While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, sometimes the bacteria cause an illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease.
What is invasive Group A Streptococcal disease?
Invasive Group A Strep disease is sometimes a life-threatening infection in which the bacteria have invaded parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscle or lungs.
Two of the most severe, but rare, forms of invasive disease are necrotising fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.
Necrotising fasciitis is also known as the ‘flesh-eating disease’ and can occur if a wound gets infected.
Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome is a rapidly progressing infection causing low blood pressure/shock and damage to organs such as the kidneys, liver and lungs.
This type of toxic shock has a high death rate.
READ MAILONLINE’S FULL Q&A ON STREP A.
Jamie had a sore throat, large glands, was drowsy and holding his ears. He also couldn’t swallow drinks and wasn’t passing urine.
But just a day after he returned home, little brother Drew, 17 months, was diagnosed with the same bacterial infection, after catching it from Jamie.
With both boys at home sick – but recovering – Aimee and Will Jones, 24, a salesman, say they feel lucky they trusted her instincts and didn’t believe it was just tonsillitis.
Aimee, who was speaking out after a 12-year-old boy from who used to attend school in the neigbouring town of Waterlooville reportedly died from Strep A this week, said: ‘It made me feel so helpless because you feel like screaming at the doctor.
‘I know they have done years and years in studying but I know my child.
‘It was so refreshing to hear the doctor say they weren’t going to question me on my child.
‘I am so unbelievably lucky to have my Jamie at home, getting better when this story could have had such a devastating end.
‘He is luckily at the better end of the scale now in terms of Strep A severity but if left it could’ve been worse.’
On November 29, Jamie woke up feeling drowsy and restless but Aimee thought it was down to him having a late night the day before.
Later that day he was screaming in pain holding his head.
Worried Aimee looked into his mouth and saw his tonsil were ‘nearly touching’ and the back of his throat was covered in white big spots and small red pinpricks.
After a restless night, Aimee called the doctors. The family received a phone consultation and after sending over pictures the doctor diagnosed Jamie with tonsillitis and told Aimee to monitor how much he was drinking and weeing.
Aimee said: ‘I had looked at photos online of Strep Throat and what Jamie had looked exactly the same. I questioned that and he didn’t really make a comment.
‘We got antibiotics and started them straight away. Jamie went for a wee Wednesday afternoon and didn’t go again until Friday morning and when he went it was the tiniest amount.
‘On Thursday evening, I thought “I’m not having this” and I got told I can either have a phone appointment within hours or take him to the hospital.’
Aimee rushed Jamie to hospital where she asked if it could be strep throat, because his symptoms were ‘identical’ to photos online.
Aimee again was told to wait five days and call the GP if Jamie’s condition had worsened or not improved, she claims.
Unsatisfied, Aimee took him to a GP. She said: ‘After seeing how poorly he was, the state of his throat and that he had such poor urine output she called the Paediatric Department at the Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth.
‘She noticed that all down the back of his throat was covered in tiny ulcers and she said it was the worst throat in a child she had ever seen.’
Jamie Jones, three, became the first of Aimee’s two children to contract the illness, which was later caught by his younger brother, Drew
Jamie was in the hospital for around five hours, he had a swab taken from the back of his throat, was given Difflam spray and was closely monitored with doctors confirming Jamie had Strep A.
Drew started to feel ‘unsettled’ on Saturday – when Aimee noticed spots around his mouth.
On Sunday, Drew’s condition worsened. Like his brother, he developed a sore throat as well as red spots around his mouth and white puffy spots on his tonsils.
Aimee had a telephone consultation for Drew the day after his brother came out of hospital, and he was immediately diagnosed with Strep A and given antibiotics.
Aimee added: ‘Jamie has turned a corner over the last few days.
‘I am so lucky it was caught when it was as now we know what we are dealing with and how to manage it while he gets better.
‘I knew it was Strep A and if it wasn’t that then it definitely wasn’t just tonsillitis.
‘Just be aware this horrible infection spreads so fast. Both of my little boys now have Strep A.
‘My youngest’s Strep A got worse so now he has sores around his mouth and a rash on his feet.
Camila Rose, four, has been on a ventilator in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool since last Sunday. She was initially sent home with an inhaler a week earlier
Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, died after contracting the bacterial infection Strep A last month
Hanna Roap, who attended Victoria Primary School in Penarth, Wales, died after contracting Strep A earlier this month. Her family say they have been ‘traumatised’ by her death
‘They have said that he now also has Scarlet Fever as well as Strep A.
‘My eldest, Jamie, is doing so much better. We just now need to hope my youngest follows that and starts feeling better soon.’
Meanwhile, as cases of scarlet fever and Strep A sweep across the UK, one Hull primary school made the decision to close following an outbreak of scarlet fever.
St Vincent’s Voluntary Catholic Academy shut for a ‘deep clean’ on Friday as a small number of children were coming down with what is believed to be scarlet fever.
Parents at the school gates on Monday were in agreement that it was the right precaution to take, as children as young as five had suffered seriously with the nasty infection.
One family member told Hull Live of how a five-year-old girl became ill a week last Friday. She said: ‘We noticed she wasn’t herself when we picked her up from school and had come down with something.
‘We got her in at the out of hours clinic in Bransholme the following day and it was confirmed she needed to be isolated and on antibiotics. At that point we hadn’t seen much on the news about it all so we weren’t in too much of a panic.
‘She suffered very badly with it, bless her. Thankfully, it didn’t turn into Strep A.’
This map shows the rates of invasive Group A Streptococcal disease (iGAS), a serious form of Strep A infection in England’s regions. Rates are cases per 100,000 people with the outbreak highest in Yorkshire and the Humber and lowest in the East of England
Another mother at the school said that both of her children were kept off school with scarlet fever. She said: ‘My daughter has a disability and is vulnerable so we were concerned for her being around others. They finished antibiotics yesterday so will hopefully be okay now.’
Laura Rooney, of Banbridge in Northern Ireland, said her five-year-old daughter, Farah contracted Strep A and that her condition rapidly deteriorated, with the youngster developing pneumonia as a result of the infection.
‘She has been on five antibiotics in total and we’re still trying to find out what the source of this new rash is. It has really hit her hard,’ reported the Derbyshire Times.
Father who lost all four limbs after contracting Strep A urges parents to be on their guard
Alex Lewis caught Strep A in 2013 which developed into Septicaemia – a poisoning of the blood. He had to have all four of his limbs amputated
A father who had all four limbs amputated and endured facial reconstruction after contracting Strep A has joined calls warning parents to be vigilant.
Alex Lewis thought he had ‘man flu’ back in 2013 but collapsed and was rushed to hospital where he was given just a three per cent chance of survival. He had contracted Strep A, followed by Septicaemia.
Alex said he was heartbroken to hear about the number of children losing their lives in the most recent outbreak of the infection.
‘I saw an interview with the father of a little girl in Alder Hey hospital and that was pretty raw. I can only imagine what he’s going through and I know my family went through similar. It’s tough,’ said the 42-year-old.
Urging parents to seek advice immediately if they think they child has Strep A, Alex added: ‘I think it’s important parents don’t panic as it is cold and flu season, but with low baseline immunity after two years of not mixing, things are spreading in schools and it’s quite a worrying time.
‘Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. We know the NHS is under a lot of pressure, but contact your GP, call 111 or go to A&E if necessary and get your child on antibiotics.
‘It’s better to be safe than sorry. I’m very lucky to be here. Don’t be afraid to push to have your child seen.”
Alex, who lives in Stockbridge, Hants, with his wife Lucy Townsend and 11-year-old son Sam, is the patron of the Lee Spark NF Foundation, the only UK charity offering help and support to anyone affected by severe streptococcal infections or Necrotising Fasciitis.
‘Last week, it took a turn for the worst. I took it upon myself to put the child in the car and take her to hospital. It was there that they did an X-ray of her chest and discovered that she had as well. That’s what she was battling with.’
Five-year-old George Higham contracted the deadly infection last August and his mother, Jenna, said his screams would forever ‘haunt her’.
Jenna, 24, of Sutton on Sea, Lincolnshire, claimed her GP misdiagnosed her son’s symptoms as thrush. But she was certain he needed hospital treatment and called 111.
He was rushed to Grimsby Children’s Hospital and later made a full recovery. But speaking of the ordeal, Jenna told the Mirror: ‘It was such a frightening time.
‘He developed a heart murmur because he was so ill and he was screaming in agony from the pains in his legs…His screams will always haunt me. I am just so thankful he made it through.’
In all, nine children are now known to have died from the bacteria, commonly found in the throat and on skin, since September.
These include Hanna Roap, who attended Victoria Primary School in Penarth, Wales. Her family say they have been ‘traumatised’ by her death.
Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, four, died at home in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, on November 14 after suffering a cardiac arrest following a Strep A infection.
Meanwhile, four-year-old Camila Rose has been on a ventilator in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool since last Sunday after contracting Strep A.
And this week, a 12-year-old from Hampshire became the eighth child to lose their lives in the Strep A outbreak.
The boy attended the fee-paying Colfe’s School in Lewisham, south east London. But it is believed he was from Hampshire.
According to Portsmouth newspaper The News, headteacher of the school Alison Syred-Paul said: ‘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 warned parents to be vigilant of the infection, which can normally be treated easily with antibiotics, especially if prescribed early on.
But the first symptoms, such as a fever and sore throat, can be mistaken for a range of common winter viruses for which these drugs are useless. One top health adviser today said it made it ‘very difficult’ to detect.
Other symptoms can include muscle aches and vomiting. Strep A can also cause scarlet fever.
Medics have been told for years to be cautious about prescribing antibiotics due to fears this was leading to bacteria becoming increasingly immune to the life-saving medications.
In exceptionally rare cases, the bug — spread in the same way as Covid, through close contact such as sneezing, kissing and touching — can penetrate deeper into the body and cause life-threatening problems such as sepsis. The complication is called iGAS.
It comes amid warnings that the UK is running low on antibiotics. Three medications routinely used to fight off the bug — or tell-tale symptoms which might be caused by other bacterial infections — are listed as being in short supply.
Pharmacists told MailOnline the ongoing shortages, which could rumble on until into 2023, were ‘heartbreaking’. Parents scrambling to find drugs are being turned away due to a lack of supplies, they claimed.
It comes as GPs were told to be ready to dish out antibiotics to youngsters showing even the slightest Strep A symptoms as part of a drive to spot the bug early — when it’s most treatable.
Strep A: The signs and symptoms that all parents should look out for
What symptoms and signs should parents of ill children be looking out for? In case it could be invasive?
Firstly, to reassure parents that the vast majority of children who at this time of the year are unwell, are unwell with virus colds and flus that need very little help or input.
Scarlet fever in particular is associated with a rash, so it’s a high fever and the scarlet is from the colour of the rash on white skin.
The key thing about the rash is the skin feels bumpy or lumpy. It can sometimes be referred to as a ‘sandpaper rash’.
In darker skin, parents may not see any colour change often so the sandpaper rash is very important, particularly in the crevices of the arms.
Looking out for it in the elbows is a good sport for parents to feel.
The other sign for scarlet fever is what is called ‘strawberry tongue’, where you get a white coating, redness and irritation on the tongue which if you get tongue stick at looks like a strawberry.
Doctors advise antibiotics for people with scarlet fever because it can in rare situations go on to cause the more invasive disease.
If they’ve got a sandpaper rash alongside a fever, then call NHS 111 or a GP to seek medical advice. But the vast majority of children with fever respond well to Calpol, paracetamol or ibuprofen and that should be the first port of call in parents as they’re worried.
Is there a threshold of unwellness parents should notice or take action at?
Well the sore throat people describe with group A Strep is really the worst sore throat they’ve ever had – they’re not able to swallow anything. Often, they will be trying to suck ice cubes, as that’s the only thing.
So it’s not like a child going ‘oh I’ve got a sore throat but I can eat my dinner’, it’s a sore throat when they’re not able to eat, they’re not able to drink as well, so that’s the first thing.
And again, a sore throat that improves with some analgesia over-the-counter medication is probably not one of those very severe sore throat.
But even more concerning is the sign of a very sick child. Those signs are a child who is really drowsy, not waking up, even after taking some anti-inflammatory medication, not running around for long periods, not drinking and also then being dehydrated and not passing urine.
If a child is not going to the toilet a couple of times a day or is not having wet nappies, that’s a sign to watch out for.
Those more severe things, often we’ve got children and my own included who perk up immediately once you give them a little bit of paracetamol. That usually means that they’ve got a usual type of viral infection. It’s the ones that don’t perk up that we really worry about.