Lucy Dunn Lucy Dunn

Is lockdown to blame for the Strep A spike?


As of today, nine children have died in the UK after falling ill with Strep A. Now, more children under ten have lost their lives from severe infection caused by invasive Strep A (sometimes abbreviated to iGAS) than did from Covid in the first three months of the pandemic in 2020.

In most cases, Group A Streptococcus, a bacterial infection common in school-age children, is mild. From ‘strep throat’ that can cause tonsillitis, to skin infections and scarlet fever, it can present in many forms. Spread by respiratory droplets (propelled outwards when you sneeze, cough or kiss), most cases result in mild symptoms and recovery after a short course of antibiotics. But if left untreated, the bacteria can infiltrate your internal organs, weld itself to your heart and kidneys and leave you seriously ill. 

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued a warning, calling on parents to be vigilant in looking out for symptoms. In the week ending 20 November, there were 851 cases of the infection, compared to an average of 186 during that week in preceding years: a rise of 357.5 per cent. The amount of people affected by the invasive type of Strep A have increased by almost fivefold compared to pre-pandemic figures.

‘The numbers we are seeing are much, much higher than we have seen at this time of year for the past five years,’ Susan Hopkins, chief medical officer at UKHSA, told the BBC’s Today programme.

While cases of Strep A are on the rise, supplies of the antibiotic that treats it are running out.

So what’s causing this worrying spike? Some scientists are pointing the finger at the ‘Covid immunity debt’: in short, many are worried that lockdowns – and the lack of mixing among children – means that viruses are swarming back into a population with little immunity to battle them.

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