Twelve dead in Essex from deadly infection passed through kissing and touching

Twelve people have died in a ‘very serious’ outbreak of a rare bacterial infection that has spread in Essex.

There have been 32 reported cases of the disease, called invasive Group A streptococcus (iGAS), the NHS Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group said.

The bacteria can be found in the throat and on the skin – and people may carry it without displaying any symptoms.

It can live in throats and on hands for long enough to allow easy spread between people through sneezing, kissing and skin contact

It said the outbreak started in Braintree and has since spread to the Chelmsford and Maldon areas, but did not give a timeline for this.

Public Health England called it a ‘local incident’, but warned it was a ‘high risk’ of further fatalities from the ‘ongoing outbreak’.

Dr Jorg Hoffman, deputy director of health protection for PHE East of England told the BBC: ‘This is still an ongoing outbreak. Unfortunately we have so far not been able to fully contain the situation.

‘Obviously we are hoping that the efforts of our colleagues in the NHS and provider organisations are now bearing some fruit and we will be able to contain the situation and prevent further cases from happening.

‘I cannot deny that there is still an ongoing risk until we can declare that this outbreak is over.’

In a report, the clinical commissioning group said the ‘sometimes life-threatening GAS disease may occur when bacteria get into parts of the body where bacteria usually are not found, such as the blood, muscle, or the lungs’.

It said that ‘most of the patients affected are elderly and had been receiving care for chronic wounds, in the community, either in their own homes and some in care homes’.

An incident management team has been established to ‘control the incident and closely monitor the situation’.

Rachel Hearn, director of nursing and quality, Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, said: ‘Our thoughts are with the families of those patients who have died.

‘The NHS in Essex is working closely with Public Health England and other partners to manage this local incident, and extra infection control measures have been put in place to prevent the infection spreading in the area.

‘The risk of contracting iGAS is very low for the vast majority of people and treatment with antibiotics is very effective if started early.

‘We will continue to work with our partners in Public Health England to investigate how this outbreak occurred and take every possible step to ensure our local community is protected.’

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