THE death of a five-year-old girl linked to Strep A bacterial infection is first and foremost an enormous tragedy for her family and school community.
Stella-Lilly McCorkindale, a P2 pupil at Black Mountain Primary School in Belfast, died at the Royal Victoria Hospital on Monday, nine days after she first became ill.
Her parents have today told of their devastation at the loss of their "princess" and described how what began with a sore stomach and high temperature ended with their daughter on life support intensive care.
Their experience is every parent's worst fear and there will now be understandable concern in many households amid a rise in Strep A infections.
Across the UK, nine children are thought to have died with complications linked to Strep A since September.
Health authorities in the Republic are also investigating if the death of a four-year-old child is linked to a similar infection.
Spikes in Strep A occur periodically and it is thought the current pattern is partly explained by the fact children mixed less during the Covid outbreak and have weaker immune protections.
Last Friday the Public Health Agency sent a letter to parents of P1 to P3 children at Black Mountain PS asking them to attend a clinic and receive a preventative course of antibiotics.
Dozens of pupils at a primary school near Kilkeel, Co Down were also off this week, with two needing treated in hospital.
Public health authorities have also been monitoring an increase in cases of Scarlet Fever, related to the same bacterial infection.
More cases were reported in a single week at the end of November than during the whole of 2021.
It is important to stress that most Strep A infections are mild and children will recover quickly with the help of antibiotics and suffer no long-lasting effects.
However, it is also true that infection is very contagious and in rare cases can be very serious.
For this reason is it is vital that parents are vigilant about their child's symptoms and know when help should be sought.
Parents of sick children should keep them at home and if they become concerned about their condition, medical advice should be sought urgently.
All possible support must also be provided to GPs, hospital services and pharmacies to ensure those presenting with concerns are quickly assessed and appropriate medications are available.