FERMANAGH families are living in fear this week, as a deadly bacterial infection is starting to spread in the community that can be particularly fatal to children.
The Strep A infection, which can cause sore throats and scarlet fever, has already claimed the lives of several children in Britain and is now spreading locally.
Fears have been compounded following the death of five-year-old P2 pupil, Stella-Lily McCorkindale, who contracted a severe case of Strep A and passed away at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast on Monday.
Now parents in Fermanagh are being warned that is “better to be safe than sorry” when it comes to seeking help for the infection.
Symptoms of Strep A range from sore throats to scarlet fever and, more dangerously, a streptococcal infection known as iGAS which can be lethal.
Enniskillen chemist, Paul Hughes, stated that while there are concerns, following some basic guidelines may help prevent the spread of Strep A – and the iGAS variant in particular.
He said: “Strep A is a common bacteria. A lot of us carry it on our skin and in our throat and it never becomes a serious problem.
“What causes the problems is when it gets into areas of the body where it never normally is. In this particular case, it seems to be the lungs and in rare cases, the iGAS strain can be fatal.
“It’s usually spread by actual coughs, sneezes and contact. With children in particular, they are still developing their own immune systems but with children, they are always socialising. You put a group of children in a space and they are soon making contact, falling over each other and playing with one another. That may well be the reason why it’s spreading. All we can do to cut down the spread is the usual hygiene measures. Washing your hands, keeping them clean and keeping your distance – trying to keep less contact with people.
“If you do have a throat or chest infection which maybe Strep A, you may have to isolate yourself a little bit. I’ve had two enquiries to the pharmacy from people about this and I’ve basically given them that advice.
“But because it can be so fatal with children, parents need to encourage their children about personal hygiene, distancing, maybe keep the children home if they suspect they have a bad throat or chest infection – indeed anything at all that’s causing a cough.
“It might be nothing but it is better to be safe than sorry. Not every parent will want to hear that as they won’t be wanting to keep children off school but that seems to be the way to help stop the spread.”
Meanwhile, a Fermanagh mother-of-two has expressed her concerns following the death of the Belfast schoolgirl.
The woman, who asked not to be named, said: “The news about the little five-year-old girl who passed away has really frightened me as a mother of two young children under five.
“My daughter is at nursery and mixing with other kids every day and all I can do is hope and pray Scarlet Fever doesn’t continue to spread.
“I’ve found myself really tuning into all the advice in the media about the signs and symptoms over the last few days because that’s all you can do, watch out for it and if you feel you need to get an antibiotic for your child, get one.
“It’s a really scary time though and it feels like one thing after the next following Covid.”
Penicillin V has been recognised as the sole course of treatment for the infection. However, while its taste will not appeal to children, Dr Frances O’Hagan, Deputy Chair of the BMA Northern Ireland General Practitioner’s Committee, warned that parents had to ensure the full course of medicine is taken.
She said: “Don’t be going back looking at alternative antibiotics because the child doesn’t like the taste (of Penicillin V).
“Other antibiotics are not as effective as Penicillin V. If you are given the treatment – and it’s a 10-day course – it is important to get it into your child and finish the 10 days.
“However, if your child gets through the 10 days and is no better. That means it wasn’t Strep A that they had but a simple virus. You just have to sit it out like you would do with any other viral illness.”
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