Strep A: Warning of rush on antibiotics over parents’ fears of infections

Medics have been advised to have a low threshold for prescribing antibiotics for children   (PA Wire)
Medics have been advised to have a low threshold for prescribing antibiotics for children (PA Wire)

A leading children’s doctor on Friday warned of a rush on antibiotics as worried parents flock to GPs, pharmacists and A&E with their ill children over Strep A concerns.

At least 15 UK children have died with invasive infections in recent weeks.

The Group A strep bacteria commonly causes minor infections but can lead to deadly illness. It can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics.

Adam Finn, head of Bristol Children’s Vaccine Centre, said paediatricians were “really anxious to see only those very seriously sick children” following concerns that parents would head to already stretched A&Es with their ill children.

He added that there may be some “distribution problems” with antibiotics in some parts of the country because of the sudden demand.

“There is analogous to what happens with the petrol pumps, when suddenly there’s a concern and everyone wants petrol at the same time,” he told LBC. “There’s plenty of petrol. It’s just not in the right place at the right time.”

The UK Health Security Agency has said there is no evidence that a new strain of the bacteria is circulating and that the rise in cases is most likely due to increased social mixing.

Pharmacists have complained about shortages of antibiotics on social media, stating the liquid version of penicillin, which is commonly given to children, is unavailable in some areas.

Dr Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said on Friday that talks were underway with leading medical professionals about relaxing rules so that pharmacists can prescribe similar antibiotics if they do not have the ones named on the prescription in stock.

She said liquid penicillin stocks were low in some places, but it was widely available in other forms.

“Through their regulation, pharmacists cannot dispense something different to what’s on the prescription,” she told BBC Radio 4.

“I think that does need to be looked at. I think that not only do pharmacists need to be able to dispense a different formulation of that antibiotic, but if that antibiotic is just not available there are other alternatives that are just as good.”

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said he was not aware of any “national shortage” in antibiotics to treat Strep A.

He added: “I can’t tell you about supply chain issues but my understanding is that overall we do have plenty of antibiotics. You could have a local situation where there’s a shortage, but I’m not aware of any national shortage.”