HSE says sick children should be kept home from schools amid Strep A spread

HSE says sick children should be kept home from schools amid Strep A spread

The HSE warned that children should not return to school until the symptoms are gone, amid concerns about Group A Strep. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

The HSE has told parents and principals that children with a fever, cough, and sore throat should be kept out of school, as the death of a four-year-old child from Strep A was confirmed.

In a memo issued to all schools and creches, the HSE advised that children with who are feeling unwell should stay at home in a bid to stop the spread of infections. The HSE warned that children should not return to school until the symptoms are gone, amid concerns about Group A Strep.

Blanket antibiotics

The memo comes as the HSE considers offering blanket antibiotics to children to try and stem outbreaks. 

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said it is examining the possibility of offering antibiotics as a preventative measure in areas which have outbreaks of Strep A.

“Our health protection facility, as part of public health, are meeting with paediatric specialist services to see if there is any enhanced measures we can take such as provision of antibiotic coverage where there may be outbreaks,” he said.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the Government is monitoring the situation, and confirmed that the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Professor Breda Smyth and her team are considering the potential use of antibiotics for children where outbreaks have occurred.

Similar blanket measures for schools where Strep A infections were found are also being considered in England, the UK Health Security Agency said.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said it is examining the possibility of offering antibiotics as a preventative measure, in areas which have outbreaks of Strep A. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin
HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said it is examining the possibility of offering antibiotics as a preventative measure, in areas which have outbreaks of Strep A. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

The first confirmed death linked to Strep A in the Republic was a four-year-old child in the northeast/north Dublin region.  The bereaved family is now being supported by local public health staff, as are staff and pupils the school which the child attended.

Since September, nine children have died in the UK due to complications from Strep A bacterial infections. The deaths include a five-year-old Belfast schoolgirl named as Stella-Lily McCorkindale.

Words of reassurance 

The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre director Dr Éamonn O’Moore has moved to reassure other parents. 

"The news of a child death with Strep A will be worrying for parents, but it’s important to know that most children who get ill from a Group A Strep infections will have a mild illness which can be treated with antibiotics.

“Group A Streptococci are a common bacteria that are often and usually relatively mild and self-limiting. They can cause infections like tonsillitis and pharyngitis and scarlet fever,” he said.

Creches and, schools have been now asked by the HSE to share advice on infections with parents in a detailed memo circulated to principals and childcare providers yesterday.

The memo, written by Dr O’ Moore with national clinical lead for child and public dealth Dr Abigail Collins, advised that unwell children should not return to schools until any symptoms are gone.

The advice to parents is that "the most important measure" was for children to stay at home if they have "fever, cough, and sore throat".

“Ireland has seen cases of more serious infections recently. But so far the rate of serious infection is below the level seen before the Covid-19 pandemic,” it states, referring to Strep A.

They stressed that severe infection in Group A Strep is rare.

“Group A Strep more commonly causes infections such as tonsillitis, scarlet fever, skin infections,” the memo advises.

The doctors also warn however: “There has been a large increase in general viral infections among children and young people this winter.” 

They stressed the importance of infection prevention and control measures such as covering coughs and sneezes and keeping hands clean, and of keeping up-to-date on all recommended vaccinations.

There is no vaccine against many viral illnesses or Strep A, however they advise parents to ensure children are up-to-date with available vaccinations against other illnesses including the flu. It added: 

"Making sure your child is up to date on all recommended vaccinations will help stop your child getting an infection and make them less likely to be unwell if they do get an infection."

Parents are advised to discuss concerns with their GP, and that the HSE website contains up-to-date information on Strep A and other infections including RSV.

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