In November 2022 it was reported that a child, around the age of 6, had died after catching an infection caused by the group A streptococcus bacteria. Another child was hospitalised and is showing signs of recovery after the bacteria outbreak at a primary school in Surrey.  

Surrey outbreak 

The CDC suggests that group A strep is the cause of several different infections, ranging from minor illnesses to serious and “deadly” diseases. It is highly contagious but treatable with antibiotics. In England and Wales, it is a notifiable disease, which means health professionals must report suspected cases to local health protection teams in order to facilitate fast treatment and effective outbreak control.  

The UKHSA confirmed on 24th November that a child had died, with “precautionary” measures being taken to protect staff and pupils at the school. The school described the “shock” to the community and emphasised that the staff would be seeking health advice so that they could act on it and support parents. Ruth Hutchinson, director of public health for Surrey County Council, offered “sincere condolences” to the school community.  

Experts weigh in 

Dr Timothy Jinks, Head of Interventions for the Infectious Disease team at Wellcome tweeted a link to the BBC story, suggesting that it was news that “shouldn’t be happening”. Identifying the problem of AMR as having “undermined usefulness of half of the commonly prescribed drugs” against GAS, he suggested that illness “should be prevented with vaccines” and referred to the Strep A Vaccine Global Consortium (SAVAC).

SAVAC describes GAS as the “biggest infectious killer that no one has heard of”. It causes an estimated 517,000 deaths each year, largely in low- and middle-income countries. SAVAC is working towards the development of “safe, globally effective, and affordable” vaccines to protect against GAS.  

We will hear more from Dr Neeraj Kapoor, the Director of the Group A Strep and Periodontitis Vaccine Programmes at Vaxcyte, on progress towards GAS vaccines next week at the World Vaccine and Immunotherapy Congress.