Essex strep A outbreak: Deep clean of nurse bases after deaths

Streptococcus pyogenes Image copyright BSIP/Getty Images
Image caption The streptococcus pyogenes bacterium causes the infection

Community nurse bases have been deep-cleaned to help stop a disease outbreak that has claimed 12 lives so far.

The outbreak of invasive Group A streptococcal (iGAS) infection began in Braintree, Essex, but has been found in Chelmsford and Maldon.

Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said it was trying to contain the infection.

Public Health England (PHE) said most of the 32 cases so far could be linked with community nursing treatment.

The CCG board is due to discuss the outbreak on Thursday as part of its June meeting.

Dr Jorg Hoffman, deputy director of health protection for PHE East of England, said it was difficult to test for iGAS in healthy people making it hard to know where the bacteria had come from.

He said: "What links most of the cases is that they have received community nursing care of some sort and most of those patients that have been ill or have died have received wound care such as dressing changes.

"These may have been the entry points for this infection to take hold and cause very serious diseases in this patient population."

Dr Hoffman has warned there is a "high risk" of further deaths if elderly people were infected by the bacteria.

As well as cleaning community nursing bases hundreds of people, including staff in care homes, have been swabbed as community staff working for adult service providers being given precautionary antibiotic treatment, the CCG said.

PHE East said: "We are carrying out a full investigation in order to try to understand how the infection may have spread. At the moment we haven't as yet identified a cause."

The first cases were identified in February and it was discovered to be an outbreak in March, the CCG has said.

Cases were diagnosed in Basildon in 2018 and Southend in February, but "currently there appears to be no direct link between these cases" and the initial outbreak in Braintree.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Extra infection control measures have been put in place

Mike Bewick, independent chairman of Mid and South Essex sustainability and transformation partnership, described the outbreak as "unprecedented in the UK".

He said there had been a slowdown in cases, although it was "too early" to say it was contained with two cases in the past two weeks, including one death.

What is strep A?

  • Group A streptococcal (GAS) infection is caused by strains of the streptococcus pyogenes bacterium
  • The bacteria can live on hands or the throat for long enough to allow easy spread between people through sneezing, kissing and skin contact
  • Most infections cause mild illnesses such as "strep throat", scarlet fever or skin infections
  • The bacteria rarely infects healthy people but if it does get into the body, causing serious and even life-threatening conditions, it is known as invasive GAS

Source: Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group

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