People who have had both COVID-19 jabs and come into contact with someone infected may not have to self-isolate for 10 days in the future, a public health expert has suggested.
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, says Britain may follow the US which has changed its quarantine guidance for those who had received both coronavirus doses.
She highlighted repeated statements by the UK government’s chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty and others that COVID-19 would not disappear and society would have to learn to live with it.
Prof Bauld made her comments as it was warned that a third wave of coronavirus infections “is definitely under way” and the “race is firmly on” between the vaccine rollout and the highly transmissible Delta or Indian variant.
Latest data showed the Delta variant now accounts for almost all of the UK’s coronavirus cases, according to Public Health England.
It comes as everyone aged 18 and over can now book to get vaccinated in England.
On the likelihood of a change in the quarantine rules for those fully vaccinated, Prof Bauld told Times Radio: “It’s already in place in the US.
“The Centre for Disease Control changed their guidance a while ago to say that people who had had both doses of the vaccine and about 10-14 days after the second dose didn’t have to self-isolate, so I think we are moving in that direction.”
She added: “As we’ve heard repeatedly from Chris Whitty and others, this virus isn’t going to disappear.
“We’re going to have to live alongside it, means we are going to have infections in future, so being a contact of someone infected will always be a possibility.”
Professor Adam Finn, who advises the government on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), described as “interesting” the idea of scrapping 10-day self-isolation for double-jabbed people.
He told Times Radio: “We know that the vaccine, particularly after two doses, is highly effective at stopping you from getting seriously ill, 20 times less likely to end up in hospital.
“We also know that it will reduce your chances of getting milder illness and infecting other people, but it’s probably less good at doing that than it is preventing you getting seriously ill, so it’s a kind of balance of risk thing.”
Highlighting the rising number of cases, the University of Bristol academic told the BBC: “It’s going up, perhaps we can be a little bit optimistic it’s not going up any faster, but nevertheless it’s going up, so this third wave is definitely under way.
“We can conclude that the race is firmly on between the vaccine programme, particularly getting older people’s second doses done, and the Delta variant third wave.”
Immunologist Professor Paul Moss told Sky News: “The vaccines that we have are very, very effective at preventing severe disease from the Delta variant.”
Highlighting the move to start vaccinating the over-18s, he said: “There’s no doubt if we can get that first dose in we will reduce the number of infections.”
While having to be aware of new strains of the virus, Prof Moss added: “There’s no evidence yet of a variant emerging that is resistant to the vaccines.”
The latest figures from NHS England show that an estimated four in five adults in England have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The data shows that 35,507,916 first doses have been delivered up to 17 June, the equivalent of 80.2% of all people aged 18 and over.
Fourth child confirmed to have died from Strep A
A fourth child has been confirmed to have died from a Strep A infection.
The death of Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, who was four, was announced by his school in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, on 17 November.
Health officials have now confirmed that he had invasive Group A streptococcus (iGas).
A JustGiving page set up in his memory described the boy as a “wonderful, kind, smiley and energetic boy.”
Dr Jill Morris, Consultant in Health Protection at the UK Health Security Agency South East, said: “This is a tragic case and our thoughts are with the family and friends of the individual at this very sad time.
“We have provided advice to the school and nursery to help prevent further cases and will continue to monitor the situation.”
Earlier today, the death of a child in Ealing, west London, was confirmed by the UK Health Security Agency as another case of iGAS.
Dr Yimmy Chow, health protection consultant at the UKHSA, said: “We are extremely saddened to hear about the death of a child at St John’s Primary School, and our thoughts are with their family, friends and the school community.
“Working with Ealing Council public health team, we have provided precautionary advice to the school community to help prevent further cases and we continue to monitor the situation closely.”
Two other schoolchildren have died from the infection in the past seven days.
One was a pupil at a primary school near Cardiff.
Health officials announced their death on Thursday.
Last Friday, a six-year-old child died after an outbreak at Ashford Church of England School in Surrey.
Officials are understood to have seen a slight rise in cases of Strep A, which can cause scarlet fever, though deaths and serious complications from the infection are rare.
Dr Chow added: “Group A streptococcal infections usually result in mild illness, and information has been shared with parents and staff about the signs and symptoms.
“These include a sore throat, fever and minor skin infections and can be treated with a full course of antibiotics from the GP.
“In rare incidences, it can be a severe illness and anyone with high fever, severe muscle aches, pain in one area of the body and unexplained vomiting or diarrhoea should call NHS 111 and seek medical help immediately.”
Strep A can be spread through coughs, sneezes and skin-to-skin contact. People over 65, those who have HIV, use steroids or other drugs, or suffer from diabetes, heart disease or cancer are most at risk of catching the infection.
The UKHSA has said that the number of Strep A cases in the UK is higher than expected for this time of year.
They have suggested that the increase in cases is likely the result of the withdrawal of measures implemented during he COVID pandemic.
The UKHSA advises those who come down with the illness exclude themselves from nursery, school or work for at least 24 hours after they start antibiotic treatment.
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms of the bacterial infection?
UK health officials are advising schools on how to combat Strep A infections after the deaths of four children.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said that the figures for the disease are higher this year compared to the previous two.
The increase in cases is likely the result of the withdrawal of measures implemented during the COVID pandemic, they add.
The UKHSA advises those who come down with the illness to exclude themselves from nursery, school or work for at least 24 hours after they start antibiotic treatment.
What is Strep A – or GAS?
Strep A – or Group A streptococcus (GAS) – is a type of bacterium found in the throat and on the skin and in most people does not cause any symptoms – known as being “colonised”, the NHS says.
However, it can cause a range different illnesses of the nose, throat and lungs.
It can be spread through coughs, sneezes and skin-to-skin contact.
Those carrying the bacteria may have no symptoms, but are just as likely to pass on Strep A as those who have fallen ill.
Symptoms for Strep A include pain when swallowing, fever, swollen tonsils with white patches, swollen neck glands, a high temperature or a skin rash.
The bacteria can also cause any of the following:
- scarlet fever
- skin infections like impetigo or erysipelas
Most cases of throat infection will get better on their own without treatment. Skin infections may require antibiotics.
However, GAS can also, on occasion, cause very severe infections – known as invasive GAS (iGAS).
What is iGAS?
Invasive GAS disease happens when the bacterium gets past the body’s natural defences and enters parts of the body where it is not usually found, like through the blood, deep muscle or lungs.
The most severe forms of invasive GAS disease are Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome – symptoms of which include high fever, low blood pressure, scarlet fever, kidney or liver damage and vomiting and diarrhoea – and Necrotising Fasciitis or “flesh-eating disease”, which is an infection that causes tissue to become destroyed and requires surgery. Both of these are rare, but Toxic Shock Syndrome has a high death rate.
Treatments include different types of antibiotics, and depending on how severe the symptoms are, blood transfusions may be given.
What are the symptoms of iGAS?
Early signs and symptoms of invasive GAS include:
- high fever
- severe muscle aches
- pain in one area of the body
- redness at the site of a wound
- vomiting or diarrhoea
How common is it in the UK?
iGAS disease is rare. There are between two and four cases per 100,000 people each year.
Ashish Joshi, Sky News health correspondent, said: “Parents need to be vigilant but not unduly concerned.
“While there is an uptick in cases, there haven’t been many over the last few years because the COVID pandemic meant there were restrictions on people’s movement.”
He added: “It is a very common bug that children and adults can pick up, although the tragedies we are aware of tells there is a higher amount of more dangerous cases affecting children in a more dangerous way.
“But we mustn’t be alarmed, and mustn’t be saying all children will become ill and some may die.
“That said, it’s important that parents, who will naturally be worried, should just be vigilant of the signs.”
Is Strep A (GAS) dangerous and am I at any increased risk of this disease?
It can be a serious illness, but if treated promptly with antibiotics, it is less of a threat. After at least 24 hours of antibiotics, it is generally thought to no longer be contagious.
People at risk of catching the infection include those who are:
- in close contact with someone that has Strep A
- over the age of 65
- have HIV
- use steroids or other drugs
- have diabetes, heart disease or cancer
Which version of Strep A has caused the children to die?
So far, four school-age children have died.
The deaths of a child in Ealing, west London, and a child in Buckinghamshire have been confirmed as iGAS, according to the UKHSA.
It’s not yet clear if this is also true for the other two children.
One was a pupil at a primary school near Cardiff, and another was a pupil at Ashford Church of England School in Surrey.
What should you do if you have symptoms?
Contact your GP and get medical advice straight away if you believe you or your child have symptoms of either GAS or iGAS.
Strep throat should be different from a regular sore throat, as the pain can come on quickly.
In response to the latest outbreak, a UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) spokesman said: “As part of our public health response to last week’s tragic news, we issued some general information about the signs and symptoms of scarlet fever, which is not uncommon, to schools in the vicinity of Ashford Primary.
“A number of other illnesses typically circulate at this time of year and parents, school and nursery staff are advised to be aware of the symptoms, to keep up with vaccinations and to seek advice from NHS 111 if they have concerns.”
Christmas travel warning as road workers to strike at same time as rail walkouts
Travellers have been told to brace for more Christmas chaos after road workers announced 12 days of strikes to coincide with rail walkouts.
Ground handlers at Heathrow have also said they will strike before Christmas in a dispute over pay.
In all, 350 workers employed by Menzies will walk out from 4am on 16 December for 72 hours.
The airport has urged its partners affected by the strikes to “continue with their contingency planning” and has said it will support them to “minimise the impact on passengers”.
Hundreds of thousands of workers across many sectors of the economy, including nurses, postal staff and ambulance employees, have announced strike action during the festive period.
National Highways employees, who operate and maintain roads in England, will take part in a series of staggered strikes from 16 December to 7 January, the PCS union said.
“We know our members’ action could inconvenience travellers who plan to visit their relatives over the festive period, but our members have been placed in this situation by a government that won’t listen to its own workforce,” said the union’s general secretary Mark Serwotka.
“With the serious cost of living crisis, they deserve to be paid properly for the important work they do, keeping our roads running safe and free.”
The walkouts, which risk bringing the road network to a standstill, will coincide with planned strikes by RMT members on the railways.
The rail strikes are planned on 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 December and 3, 4, 6 and 7 January.
Ministers have ‘a lot on their plate’
General secretary of the RMT union Mick Lynch met government ministers earlier on Friday for discussions on averting strike action in December, and told Sky News “talks are continuing over the weekend”.
“We’ll see where we go from there,” he said.
He added that the government is taking the strikes “seriously” but there is a “lot going on in society at the minute”.
“They [ministers] have a got a lot on their plate,” he said.
Disruption to postal services ahead of Christmas is likely to be an issue for some as well, with Royal Mail asking customers to post their cards and gifts earlier than usual due to the ongoing strike action by its workers.
Eurostar security staff are also due to strike on 16, 18, 22 and 23 December.
Other departments, including the Home Office, are expected to announce industrial action over the course of the next few weeks.
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