Strep outbreak: Nurses given antibiotics to stop spread of killer infection
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Staff battling an outbreak of a deadly infection in Essex have been given antibiotics as efforts are stepped up to stop it from spreading.
Twelve people have died from a rare illness called invasive Group A Streptococcus after 32 cases of the disease were identified in Braintree, Chelmsford and Maldon.
Expressing her condolences to affected families at a meeting on Thursday, Dr Anna Davey of the Mid Essex clinical commissioning group revealed what is being done to tackle the incident and prevent it from spreading further.
She said the majority of patients affected were older people receiving treatment for wounds either in care homes or in their own homes. Public Health England confirmed no further cases have been identified so far and Suffolk organisations have not been alerted to any in the county.
"We have put in place measures to prevent the spread of this infection, including giving all community nursing staff who treat patients with chronic wounds antibiotic prophylaxis," she told the meeting.
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"A deep cleaning of all community nurse bases has been conducted on all premises and to ensure the infection does not spread out of the locality, district nurse teams working within the CM7 Braintree area are only working within this postcode for the time being.
"This is because the majority of cases have been within this area.
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"We are taking wound swabs from all patients who are being treated for wounds in the area to check for the bacteria, and increasing opportunities for hand hygiene and use of personal protective equipment among staff.
She added: "We understand this is a worrying time for people, and know how frustrating it is that we don't have answers to lots of the questions you may have. But we want to reassure members of the public that the risk of contracting iGAS is very low for most people.
"Treatment with antibiotics is very effective if started early."
What is invasive Group A Streptococcus?
This rare kind of bacteria can be found in the throat and on the skin and will not cause any illness for most people.
Most infections can cause mild illnesses such as a sore throat, also known as strep throat, scarlet fever or a skin infection.
For most healthy people, this will cause no more than a mild illness.
However, on rare occasions, Group A streptococcus bacteria can enter the body and cause severe, and sometimes life-threatening conditions.
While it is rare, it is not new and has been seen in the UK before, Dr Davey said.
'We want to make sure the local community is protected'
A newly-created incident management team, set up in the wake of the outbreak, is working hard to understand why it has happened and to prevent more people from being infected, she added.
Jorg Hoffman, from Public Health England, also attended the meeting and gave commissioners an in-depth look at what the illness is and how it can spread.
Medics are continuing to work with the organisation to stop the spread of the outbreak, making sure the local community is protected, Dr Davey said.
Dozens of people have so far contacted a helpline set up in the wake of the incident.
Those affected can call the Freephone number 03000 032124 Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.
Visit the Mid Essex CCG website for further information.