Amid concerns around children under the age of 15 dying in the UK from the invasive Strep A illness and a surge of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), this Frontline Series looks to provide a low-down and preventive measures to worried parents with some expert advice.
iGlobal speaks with Manchester-based Dr Sharmila Gupta, MBBS (Calcutta), DCH (London). Originally from Kolkata, Dr Gupta works in the Paediatric Accident and Emergency of Ormskirk Hospital, part of the Southport and Ormskirk NHS Trust.
"Post-pandemic, we have seen unprecedented A&E presentations," informed Dr Gupta.
Hence, sticking with the same general hygiene routine and social distancing may be the best course of action, even now, since the Covid-19 pandemic has been curbed.
"Handwashing, one of the simplest yet best ways of preventing cross infections, dressing up children in warm clothing, in anticipation of the weather and avoiding crowded indoor shopping centres are my suggestions," she said.
"Some other measures are keeping children away from one another and off school when they are unwell. A high general immunity in the community helps children fight all types of infections," she added.
Strep A Bacteria
Group A Streptococcus (GAS), also known as Strep A, are bacteria commonly found on the skin or throat. This is a common bacteria; most strep A infections are mild and can be easily treated with antibiotics.
Dr Gupta thinks it's essential for parents to keep a close eye on their sick children. It might be challenging to communicate with little children, especially when they're sick.
"When a child is crying, the parents need to check a few basics - Is it a normal cry or an abnormal high-pitched one? Is there any visible rash that does not blanch with pressure, accompanied by high fever? is the child holding the neck stiff and majorly shying away from the light?" informs Dr Gupta.
"If in any doubt, always seek help. It's better to be safe than sorry.
"NHS A&E operate a triage system. So children may be seen out of turn when deemed to be sicker. It takes up time, and the situation changes every second. Come armed with food, drinks and nappies, and be prepared to wait," advised Dr Gupta for new parents.
However, on the other hand, Dr Gupta also suggests that children should come to A&E only when genuinely unwell. Alternatively, they can be taken to the GP for a check-up.
"Otherwise, they come with one issue and pick up another two from the other sick kids," she said.
Dr Gupta also highlights that Strep A bacteria is not new. It's been around for ages and is easily treatable with antibiotics.
However, the Invasive Strep A type of bacteria or the iGAS can get life-threatening.
NHS informs: "GAS can rarely cause more serious conditions, known as the Invasive Group A Streptococcus (iGAS) infection."
These can include Bacteraemia (an infection of the bloodstream), Septic arthritis, Meningitis, necrotising fasciitis (a severe infection involving the death of areas of soft tissue below the skin), Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (rapidly progressive symptoms with low blood pressure and multi-organ failure).
"It can be difficult to tell when a child is seriously ill, but the main thing is to trust your instincts," the NHS statement reads.
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Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV
Seasonal viruses like the RSV are, on the other hand, pesky problems that come back every year. Although, there has been a surge in RSV cases throughout the UK this year.
RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in children.
"The early symptoms of bronchiolitis are similar to those of a common cold but can develop over a few days into a high temperature of 37.8°C or above (fever), a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing)," informs an NHS website.
"Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks," it adds.
"Most children can fight off viral infections with anti-inflammatories, fluids and rest.
Seek help if these simple measures don't work," said Dr Gupta.
Dr Gupta also suggests some homecare tips for people living with asthma during winter months:
Do away with the carpets. Clean and hoover regularly.
Check for food and toiletries allergies.
Check for pet allergies
Have a Salbutamol inhaler handy
"Whenever there are deaths, any sudden surge of any disease, the NHS plunges into action," the doctor assures.
Talking about rampant cases of these diseases in the UK and the crucial role the NHS plays in support, Dr Gupta recollects how the NHS stood firm during the pandemic. And at enormous risk to themselves, helped the UK fight an unprecedented enemy.
"We lost colleagues left and right along the way, yet we dried our tears and shouldered on," she said.
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"Your NHS cares deeply for you, and we are doing our very best. We are short-staffed and working under challenging conditions. Please bear with us. We will get through this winter together," said the Paediatric Accident and Emergency doctor.
Also a passionate animal activist and advocate of veganism, Dr Sharmila Gupta thinks anyone who wants to serve humanity at large and the community, in particular, will be welcome to join the NHS with open arms.
*Info: NHS/StrepA; NHS/RSV [NHS advises parents to call 111 to check for symptoms and get help. And to call 999 for urgent medical assistance and A&E.]