Death toll from the Strep A outbreak in Essex rises to 13 as health chiefs battle to contain the bacterial infection
- A total of 35 people have now been infected with the bloodstream infection
- Nurses working in Braintree have been prevented from working in other areas
- The infection is spreading among elderly people receiving nursing care
- They all have long-term flesh wounds through which bacteria can enter blood
A 13th person has died in a bacterial infection outbreak in Essex, the NHS has confirmed.
The patient was the latest of a cluster of deaths caused by invasive Group A streptococcus infection (iGAS), of which an outbreak was revealed in June.
A total of 35 people are thought to have developed the life-threatening infection, caused by a potent strain of the common strep A bacteria.
Mid-Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, the NHS board for the area, said 31 of the iGAS cases have been lab-confirmed and the remaining four are suspected.
Older people with long-term flesh wounds are the ones being affected by the infection, which can get into the blood through broken skin.
Nurses working in Braintree, the centre of the outbreak, have been given antibiotics as a precaution and prevented from working in other areas to stop the spread.
At least 13 people have now died in an outbreak of invasive Group A streptococcus infection in Essex (stock image of streptococcus)
Last month Dr Jorg Hoffman, a regional deputy director for Public Health England, told the BBC it was ‘a very serious situation’.
‘I cannot deny that there is still an ongoing risk until we can declare that this outbreak is over,’ he said at the time.
Since then, another three people have caught the infection and one has died.
WHAT IS iGAS?
Invasive Group A streptococcus (iGAS) disease happens when strep A bacteria cause an unusually severe infection.
The bacteria normally live on someone’s skin or in their throat and don’t cause serious illness, only relatively minor infections such as ‘strep throat’, scarlet fever or the skin condition impetigo.
However, strep A can cause serious and even life-threatening problems if they get into areas of the body which aren’t usually affected, such as the lungs, blood or muscles.
It may do this by travelling through an open wound such as an ulcer or cut.
If this happens, it can trigger iGAS disease.
Two of the most dangerous forms of iGAS are necrotising fasciitis and Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome.
The former is also known as a flesh-eating disease because it causes lumps of tissue and skin to die and turn black. Symptoms include red or purple skin, intense pain, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea and dark blotches on the skin which turn into blisters.
Toxic shock syndrome also causes feverishness, vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as a rash dizziness and confusion.
Both conditions can cause multiple organ failure and death.
Most of the cases have been in the town of Braintree, but others have appeared in nearby Chelmsford and in smaller communities around the county.
Streptococcus bacteria normally live on someone’s skin or in their throat and don’t cause serious illness.
They can cause relatively minor infections such as ‘strep throat’, scarlet fever or the skin condition impetigo.
However, strep A bacteria can cause serious and even life-threatening problems if they get into the lungs, blood or muscles.
They may do this by travelling through an open wound such as an ulcer or cut. If this happens, it can trigger iGAS disease.
NHS Mid Essex said it’s leading an incident management team and working with Public Health England to try to control the situation.
It has given community nurses preventative antibiotics to try and stop them spreading the bacteria.
And nurses working in the CM7 postcode around Braintree are being confined to that area so they don’t spread the bacteria out of the centre of the outbreak.
The postcode area includes villages to the north of the town including Wethersfield, Shalford, Great Bardfield and Cornish Hall End.
All nurse bases have had a deep clean, hygiene standards are being enforced more strictly and patients are being swabbed to check for the bacteria.
‘The risk of contracting iGAS is very low for the vast majority of people and treatment with antibiotics is very effective if started early,’ said Mid Essex’s director of nursing, Rachel Hearn, in June.
Early signs of the deadly invasive form of infection are a high fever, severe muscle aches and tenderness, and redness at the site of a wound.
Public Health England figures show suspected cases of iGAS have almost tripled from 223 in 2013 to 664 reported in 2018.