Public Health Wales has launched a new symptoms checker tool to help parents spot the signs of Strep A. It is hoped it will help parents decide when to treat their child at home and when it is appropriate to seek medical advice. It follows an escalation in the number of calls to NHS 111 Wales last weekend. There were over 18 thousand calls – more than double the calls received on the same weekend last year. A significant proportion of these were from parents of children aged 12 years old and under and from those concerned about sore throats and throat problems.

The new symptoms checker takes the form of a traffic light showing parents when it is safe to treat a child at home and at what stage they should consider calling NHS 111 Wales or their GP. It’s hoped it will help parents to feel more confident about when they need to seek medical help.

Public Health Wales is reminding parents that cases of invasive group A streptococcal infection (iGAS) remain rare in Wales, and that children have a very low risk of contracting the disease. As of today, Public Health Wales have been notified of fewer than five deaths in children under the age of 15 in whom iGAS was detected since 1 September 2022. Due to the risk of identification, Public Health Wales will not confirm numbers of deaths lower than five.

Cold and flu like symptoms are very common at this time of year, especially in children.  If a child has a sore throat or a headache, most will have a common seasonal virus, and there is no need to contact the doctor – simply treat them at home by keeping the child hydrated, and with paracetamol.

If a child develops a fever, nausea or vomiting, or fine pink-red rash that feels like sandpaper to touch, it may be a sign of scarlet fever.  In this case, contact your GP or NHS 111 Wales for advice.  Scarlet fever is usually a mild illness from which most children will recover without complications, especially if the condition is properly treated with antibiotics.

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Dr Graham Brown, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control for Public Health Wales, said:

“We understand that parents are likely to be worried by reports they are seeing related to rising cases of scarlet fever and we want to reassure them that it is still usually a mild illness from which most children will recover without complications, especially if the condition is properly treated with antibiotics.

In very rare cases, group A streptococcal infection can cause iGAS, a rare complication which usually affects fewer than 20 children in Wales each year.  Although iGAS is a worrying condition, the majority of these children will recover with proper treatment.

The best thing that parents can do to protect their children is to use the traffic light symptom checker tool and follow the appropriate advice. It’s also important that parents ensure their child gets their flu vaccine this year because catching flu can increase the chances of becoming severely unwell with secondary infections like Strep A.”

Liam Williams, Executive Director of Quality and Nursing for the Welsh Ambulance Service, which provides the NHS 111 Wales service, added: “Our NHS 111 Wales service has just seen its busiest weekend ever with a huge number of calls from parents and carers worried about Strep A.

“Unfortunately, it has meant that many people had to wait a long time for their call to be answered, or for a clinical call back, and we would like to apologise to everyone who had to experience this and who were concerned.

“It is understandable parents are cautious when their child is unwell. Children typically experience a wide range of minor infections in wintertime and most of these can be safely dealt with at home by parents and carers.

“If parents or carers are worried about Strep A, the best thing that they can do is to provide the care they would usually provide for a child with cold and flu like symptoms, and to familiarise themselves with the symptoms of scarlet fever and iGAS as a precaution.