Northern Ireland news

Tributes paid to 'bright and talented' girl (5) who died after Strep A case reported at Belfast school

The Belfast Health Trust has apologised for the postponing of surgeries at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
Rebecca Black, PA

Tributes have been paid to a young Belfast girl who died as a case of Strep A was reported at the primary school she attended.

Black Mountain Primary School described the death of P2 pupil Stella-Lilly McCorkindale as a “tragic loss”.

“The thoughts of the entire school are with Stella-Lily’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time,” the school said in a statement.

“Stella-Lily was a very bright and talented little girl, and very popular with both staff and children, and will be greatly missed by everyone at school.

“To assist in supporting our pupils and staff at this sad time, additional trained staff from the Education Authority critical incident response team have been engaged and will be providing support to the school.

“We recognise that this news may cause worry amongst our school community and we want to reassure parents that we continue to work closely with the Public Health Agency at this time.”

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Parents of the youngest pupils at the school received a letter from the Public Health Agency on Friday to tell them a pupil had been diagnosed with a severe form of Strep A.

In Co Down, two children were admitted to hospital, a primary school principal said.

Michael Peacock, head of Brackenagh West Primary School, close to Kilkeel, said one child from his school remained in hospital on Tuesday.

He said 34 children out of 48 were off school that day.

“Every winter we will see quite a level of sickness at various stages and over the last couple of weeks we have had that as usual, but we have noticed last week the numbers were probably higher than normal,” he told the BBC.

“At break time yesterday (Monday), I was told that two of our children had been hospitalised, so at that point I immediately contacted all of the parents, made them aware of our concerns that this was something that was potentially more serious.

“We still have a child in hospital today (Tuesday). I’ve been told that the child is on oxygen and is still quite poorly, and hasn’t been well since yesterday. We’re just praying for the child that he will be fine.”

Scarlet fever cases in the north

The Public Health Agency said there were 122 cases of scarlet fever across Northern Ireland in November.

This was described as unusual as scarlet fever usually strikes in the spring.

While the previous two Novembers (during the coronavirus pandemic) saw 13 and two cases respectively, during the last spike in March 2018 some 97 cases were notified.

The number of cases of invasive group A strep (iGAS) which is the most severe and unusual form of infection – is 33 so far in 2022, compared to 55 in 2018 and 72 in 2019.

Dr Joanne McClean, director of public health at the Public Health Agency, said Northern Ireland is seeing an increase in cases of Strep A and scarlet fever, as is the rest of the UK.

She said while it is usually a mild illness, she urged those with symptoms to speak to their doctor.

“Scarlet fever usually clears up after about a week, but anyone who thinks they or a child may have it should contact a GP for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment,” she said.

“To limit the spread of scarlet fever it is also important to practise good hygiene by washing hands with warm water and soap, not sharing drinking glasses or utensils, and covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

“People should also stay away from nursery, school or work for 24 hours after taking the first dose of antibiotics.

“The PHA has issued an urgent message to all primary and secondary care healthcare providers alerting them to increases in group A streptococcal infection. Acting quickly if you suspect anyone has this infection could make a difference to the outcomes.”

Eight children in Britain have died with a form of Strep A.

Strep A infections are usually mild and can be easily treated with antibiotics.

  • Illnesses caused by the group A Strep bacteria include skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.
  • Symptoms of scarlet fever include sore throat, headache and fever, along with a fine, pinkish or red body rash with a “sandpapery” feel. On darker skin, the rash can be harder to see but will still feel “sandpapery”.

Strep A infections can develop into a more serious invasive Group A Strep (iGAS) infection – though this is rare.

Last week, the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland described an increase in the number of cases at schools and nurseries across the north.

It said this follows two years during the coronavirus pandemic when reported cases were lower than usual.

It said clusters of scarlet fever have been reported at schools and nurseries in Antrim, Belfast, Bangor and Craigavon.