Twelve die and dozens infected in contagious bacteria outbreak

By Laura Donnelly, Health Editor

TWELVE people have died in an outbreak of a rare, contagious bacteria.

Public Health England (PHE) yesterday warned that there was a “high risk” of further fatalities.

Thirty-two people throughout Essex have been infected by the invasive Group A Streptococcal (iGAS) bacterial strain.

The bacteria can be found in the throat and on the skin, and people may carry it without displaying any symptoms. It can live in throats and on hands long enough to allow it to spread easily between people – through sneezing, kissing and skin contact.

Most infections cause mild illnesses such as “strep throat”, scarlet fever or a skin infection. But the bacteria can also enter the body, where it can cause severe and life-threatening conditions.

‘This is still an ongoing outbreak. Unfortunately we have so far not been able to fully contain the situation’

Health officials said most of those affected were pensioners receiving care for chronic wounds in care homes and the community.

It is understood that the first instances of the infection were identified in February with cases found in Braintree, Chelmsford and Maldon.

Dr Jorg Hoffmann, deputy director of health protection for PHE East of England, described it as “a very serious situation”.

He told the BBC: “This is still an ongoing outbreak. Unfortunately we have so far not been able to fully contain the situation.

“Obviously, we are hoping that the efforts of our colleagues in the NHS and provider organisations are now bearing some fruit. We hope we will be able to contain the situation and prevent further cases from happening.

“I cannot deny that there is still an ongoing risk until we can declare that this outbreak is over.”

Rachel Hearn, director of nursing and quality at Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “Our thoughts are with the families of those patients who have died.

“The NHS in Essex is working closely with Public Health England and other partners to manage this local incident, and extra infection control measures have been put in place to prevent the infection spreading.

“The risk of contracting iGAS is very low for the vast majority of people, and treatment with antibiotics is very effective, if started early.

“We will continue to work with our partners in Public Health England to investigate how this outbreak occurred and take every possible step to ensure our local community is protected.”

Hundreds of people, including staff in care homes, have been swabbed and community staff working for adult services providers have been given precautionary antibiotic treatment, the CCG said.

Doctors have to report cases of iGAS to local authority public health officers to help prevent the spread of infection.

Grahame White