Twelve dead after strep outbreak in Essex
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Twelve people have died of a rare bacterial infection that has spread in Essex.
In total there are 32 reported cases of invasive Group A streptococcus (iGAS), commonly known as strep, according to the NHS Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
It said the outbreak started in Braintree and has since spread to the Chelmsford and Maldon areas. The CCG has not yet said when the first case was reported.
Streptococcal infections are usually unpleasant but not life-threatening.
They typically cause illnesses like tonsillitis or scarlet fever - but this invasive infection can cause pneumonia, sepsis or a 'flesh-eating' condition called necrotising fasciitis.
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Rachel Hearn, director of nursing and quality at the 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 in the area.
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"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."
The streptococcal 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 for long enough to allow easy spread between people through sneezing, kissing and skin contact.
Minor strep A infections can be treated with antibiotics.
However the NHS recommends seeing your GP if you have persistent or severe symptoms.
In a report, the clinical commissioning group said the "sometimes life-threatening iGAS disease may occur when bacteria get into parts of the body where bacteria usually are not found, such as the blood, muscle, or the lungs".
It said that "most of the patients affected are elderly and had been receiving care for chronic wounds, in the community, either in their own homes and some in care homes".
An incident management team has been established to "control the incident and closely monitor the situation".