Health minister provides reassurance over supply of antibiotics in Wales as Strep A cases rise
The Welsh Government is “confident suppliers are working to address any supply issues” with antibiotics, the Health Minister has said.
It comes after a rise in the number of cases of Strep A, which can be treated with common antibiotics, has led to an increase in demand to help treat suspected cases.
Eluned Morgan MS gave the reassurance after some pharmacies in Wales reportedly experienced shortages of stock with the medicine.
Ms Morgan confirmed that the devolved government is working with the UK Government medicines supply team and others to make sure pharmacies in Wales have the supplies they need.
She added: “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.”
In the UK, there were 1,512 notifications of scarlet fever between January and October 2022, compared to 948 in the same period in 2019.
The rise in cases is thought to be due to the lack of social mixing over the last two years – with this winter being the first since 2019 with no coronavirus measures in place.
In most cases, infection with streptococcal A causes scarlet fever, usually a mild illness. It can be spread to others through close contact and through coughs and sneezes.
Where people do develop symptoms, they are typically quite mild, such as the common childhood disease known as scarlet fever.
The symptoms of scarlet fever include a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. This is followed by a fine red rash, which typically first appears on the chest and stomach, rapidly spreading to other parts of the body. Older children may not have the rash.
On more darkly pigmented skin, the scarlet rash may be harder to spot, but it should feel like ‘sandpaper’. The face can be flushed red but pale around the mouth.
Parents who suspect their child has symptoms of scarlet fever are advised that they should:
- Contact their GP, visit 111.wales.nhs.uk, or call NHS 111 Wales as soon as possible
- Make sure their child takes the full course of any antibiotics prescribed by the doctor
- Keep their child at home, away from nursery, school or work and follow any guidance provided by their GP on how long they should remain absent from these settings.
However in very rare cases and particularly if an individual has other health issues or is co-infected with another infection at the same time, such as chickenpox or a respiratory virus, the Strep A bacteria can get into the bloodstream.
This is then known as invasive Strep A disease and can sadly result in a tragic outcome, especially if not treated quickly.
Symptoms of iGAS, a rare complication of group A streptococcal infection, include:
- Fever (a high temperature above 38°C)
- Severe muscle aches
- Localised muscle tenderness
- Redness at the site of a wound.
Nine children in the UK have sadly died from rare complications of Strep A.
Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “The recent deaths of children across the UK; including a child here in Wales, has caused a great deal of concern. Our thoughts and condolences go out to the families, friends and all those impacted by these tragic deaths.
“We are seeing a higher number of cases of Strep A infection this year compared to recent years and we are also seeing it during the winter, when ordinarily we would expect to see large numbers of cases during the spring.
“Investigations are ongoing but we believe this is likely to have occurred because of the lack of social mixing over the past couple of years.
“The high number of cases of this common bacterial infection circulating at the same time as a range of winter respiratory infections has, we believe, resulted in increased numbers of the rarer and more serious invasive Strep A disease.
“Early signs of the more serious invasive Strep A disease include a high fever, severe muscle aches, local muscle tenderness, or redness at the site of a wound.
“Parents are advised to contact their GP or get medical advice straight away if they think their child has any of the signs and symptoms of invasive Strep A disease.
“Scarlet fever is probably the most common of these illnesses and the characteristic symptom is a fine red rash, which typically first appears on the chest and stomach, rapidly spreading to other parts of the body.”
Further information on the symptoms that parents should look out for and who they should contact for further advice is available on the Public Health Wales website.
Public Health Wales are leading the response in Wales and an all-Wales incident management team has been established to co-ordinate all appropriate action.
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