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As many as 60,000 people could die from flu this winter and a combination of seasonal viruses and COVID-19 could leave the NHS “unable to cope”, according to a report.

The stark warning was made by scientists who say the flu season could be particularly deadly but the enhanced flu jab programme and rapid tests for flu could help to mitigate the risks.

COVID-19 restrictions meant that many respiratory viruses were not able to spread last winter as they normally would and this has concerned some virologists who say population immunity to seasonal respiratory illnesses might be compromised.

As people socialise more these viruses will spread again.

The new report from the Academy of Medical Sciences says flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) hospital admissions and deaths could be twice that seen in a “normal” year and could coincide with an increase in COVID-19 infections.

Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, chair of the Expert Advisory Group which wrote the report, said: “There are four main challenges: firstly a surge in respiratory viruses could cause wide-spread ill health and put pressure on the NHS.

“Secondly, we’re dealing with a third wave of COVID-19 and multiple outbreaks and the NHS has got to catch up with the backlog that it has accumulated over the last 15 months or so, and that’s going to be a real challenge.

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“Thirdly, the NHS is already under pressure, so is likely not to be able to cope with these winter challenges going forward.

“Finally the worse physical and mental health within the UK population due to the pandemic.”

He added: “Society as a whole will have learned from the last 15 months that it isn’t acceptable that (we had) all these respiratory viruses washing around in the winter and nearly closing our National Health Service.

“If there are things we should do top prevent transmission we should do that. Even if it means wearing masks and respecting each other’s space.”

He added: “We really do deserve to have a change in the way we operate as a society to stop the annual continual pressure on the health service created by all these viruses and that just means a change in behaviour.”

And due to the current wave of infections the NHS could face difficulties trying to catch up on the backlog of care – with more than five million people in England on the waiting list.

The report highlights other problems that the health service faces going into winter including staff shortages and reduced bed capacity.

On top of this, people putting off seeking help for illness could also lead to a rise in support needed for conditions such as asthma, heart attack and stroke this winter.

They also called for the expansion of COVID-19 testing to also include tests for flu and RSV – for instance if GPs were able to quickly confirm whether a patient has flu they would be able to prescribe their antiviral medication sooner which means that the person’s illness would be reduced, and lessen the burden on the NHS.

Up to 60,000 people could die from flu this winter, scientists have said
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Up to 60,000 people could die from flu this winter, scientists have said

Professor Dame Anne Johnson, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences and Expert Advisory Group member, added: “We’re not saying we’re about to have the worst winter ever, we’re saying we have got a bunch of uncertain things that could hit us in winter that we need to think about mitigating now.”

She added: “I hope we will take forward some of these behavioural changes as a society. When you’re sick, stay out of the way because that’s actually when you’re most infectious, get your test – if you have got COVID you need to continue with that careful self isolation.”

Dame Anne said that the flu figures are “uncertain” and the 60,000 figure is an “an unlikely worst case scenarios”, adding” flu is horribly unpredictable”.

Professor Azra Ghani, Expert Advisory Group member, added: “We have never experienced this type of thing where society has really shut down and really reduced transmission to this extent. It’s very difficult to know what impact this will have.

“It’s really just a warning to say ‘we can do something about this , this isn’t an inevitable, we can put measures in place and reduce the impact’.”

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‘You’ll be asked to leave’ without a mask on London’s public transport

The report’s authors think the flu season could come earlier than usual because of the lack of immunity but say this could actually be beneficial as there is more pressure on the NHS further into the winter.

Sir Patrick Vallance commissioned the report to examine the challenges facing the NHS this winter.

In addition to a deadly winter flu surge the study warned the health service is already under pressure and will struggle to cope with these additional winter challenges as it faced a shortage of beds and trained staff.

But the reports authors stressed the predictions are based on a worst case scenario with no interventions.

A faster vaccine rollout, the autumn booster campaign and increased testing capacity for COVID and flu will help significantly in reducing the impact of these extra pressures on the NHS.

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Antibiotics could be given to children at schools affected by Strep A infections, schools minister Nick Gibb says

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Antibiotics could be given to children at schools affected by Strep A infections, schools minister Nick Gibb says

Antibiotics could be given to children at schools affected by Strep A to stop the spread of the infection, schools minister Nick Gibb has said.

Mr Gibb told Sky News that the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) is “working closely with the schools involved and giving very specific advice to those schools which may involve the use of penicillin”.

He added that health officials will “have more to say about that”.

“They’re providing more general advice to parents, which is to look out for the symptoms – so, sore throat, fever, high temperature and also a red or raised rash on the skin are symptoms of this invasive Strep A outbreak.”

His comments came after the ninth death of a child from the infection.

The idea was first indicated by health minister Lord Markham in the House of Lords on Monday.

The Conservative peer said: “We have given instructions to doctors that where necessary they should be proactively prescribing penicillin as the best line of defence on this, and also where there is a spread in primary schools, which we know is the primary vector for this, whether they should be working with local health protection teams, and sometimes actually look at the use of antibiotics on a prophylactic basis.”

Read more:
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms of the bacterial infection?
Strep A is common and generally causes mild infections – so why the spate of deaths now?

Overnight, the i newspaper reported that penicillin or an alternative antibiotic is to be given to all children in a year group that have been hit by a case of Strep A – even if they do not have symptoms.

GPs generally avoid mass prescription of antibiotics as it can build up resistance to serious infections in the population.

But the paper quotes health officials as confirming the plan and saying isolation among children during the pandemic may have contributed to them having reduced immunity.

The UK Health Security Agency told the PA news agency the measure of prescribing antibiotics to children in a school or nursery exposed to non-invasive Strep A was “rare”.

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What is Strep A?

The agency added the move is only considered in “exceptional circumstances” by the Outbreak Control Team (OCT) on a “case-by-case basis”.

“There is no good evidence of (antibiotics’) effectiveness in routine outbreak control in this setting (involving children who have been contacts of non-invasive Strep A),” UKHSA said.

“It can be considered in exceptional circumstances by the OCT, for example when there are reports of severe outcomes, or hospitalisations.

“In school and nursery settings, antibiotic chemoprophylaxis is not routinely recommended for contacts of non-invasive (Group A streptococcus) GAS infection.”

Asked about the recent rise in cases on Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said: “We are seeing a higher number of cases of Group A strep this year compared to usual.

“The bacteria we know causes a mild infection which is easily treated with antibiotics and in rare circumstances it can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness.

“It is still uncommon but it’s important parents are on the lookout for symptoms.”

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Strep A outbreak in charts

Strep A infections are usually mild and can be easily treated with antibiotics.

Illnesses caused by the Group A strep bacteria include the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.

There has been a big leap in the number of scarlet fever cases.

There were 861 cases reported during the week ending 27 November, according to the latest UKHSA figures, compared to an average of 186 for the same timeframe in previous years. the figure was slightly down on the previous week’s 901 cases, but the figure for the first 47 weeks of 2022 is already 10 times higher than the same period for 2021.

The number of cases of the more serious invasive group A streptococcal disease (iGAS) in England and Wales in the week ending 27 November was eight.

Symptoms of scarlet fever include sore throat, headache and fever, along with a fine, pinkish or red body rash with a “sandpapery” feel.

On darker skin, the rash can be harder to see but will still be “sandpapery”.

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Man arrested after egg thrown at the King during Luton visit

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Man arrested after egg thrown at the King during Luton visit

King largely warmly welcomed by diverse crowd

Everyone was desperate for this to be a visit without any problems or distractions. And then the police had to act.

When you watch the footage back you see them subtly move the King away, as a man in his 20s was arrested for allegedly trying to throw an egg.

The King clearly very quickly briefed but still waving as he walked towards another part of the crowd.

Yes, it may potentially have been a display of anti-monarchy sentiment, but this was nothing like the egg-throwing incident seen in York a few weeks ago.

I was in St George’s Square in Luton and no one really clocked that it had even happened. And on a day when it was always going to be interesting to see how people responded to the monarch, he was largely warmly welcomed by the diverse crowd.

After all, this was the first time he’s been out meeting the public since those trailers were released for Harry and Meghan’s docuseries and the racism claims emerged against the palace last week.

I met Sean and Raja, who closed their office so all the staff could come to see the King. Not your usual royal fans, they were impressed that he’d come to visit and are prepared to give the King time to make changes.

“It’ll be good to see what he does for us and the country,” Raja said, with Sean adding: “Even if people have concerns, you can’t change it (the institution) overnight. It’s a work in progress… in every job everyone needs a bit of time.”

The negative headlines are no doubt a challenge and will be a frustration for a monarch who from day one has wanted us to see him as approachable and less formal.

He’s been remarkably tactile with crowds and today appeared to suggest to one women she didn’t need to curtsy.

Since the start of his reign, so many engagements have been about championing diversity and celebrating an inclusive Britain, but this is a week where we find out how much that work on the ground can combat the allegations coming from across the Atlantic.

The King’s advisers will always stress that this is a man who as heir actively supported all communities, all faiths. He takes that role seriously.

We saw it today as one of his Sikh police officers was seen advising him on how he should conduct himself at the newly-built Guru Nanak Gurdwara.

He paused and prayed. An important moment of reflection, for a monarch focused on his work but inevitably bracing himself for what is to come from his youngest son.

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Strep A: Find out how many severe infections and scarlet fever cases are in your area

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Strep A: Find out how many severe infections and scarlet fever cases are in your area

At least nine children have now died with a Strep A infection across the UK, with health officials also reporting a surge in scarlet fever cases.

Typically, Strep A infections are mild and treated easily with antibiotics but an invasive form of the bacteria, known as iGAS, has increased this year, particularly in those under the age of 10.

A five-year-old child in Belfast is the latest child to die with the infection, with deaths also reported in Hampshire, London, Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Penarth in Wales.

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Meanwhile, the huge rise in scarlet fever infections saw 851 cases reported in the week November 14 to 20, compared to an average of 186 for the same timeframe in previous years, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Click or search in the map below to find out the number of scarlet fever cases in your area, according to the latest publicly available statistics.

Area with most scarlet fever cases revealed

Scarlet fever – an infection caused by Strep A – mostly affects young children and can be easily treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms include a sore throat, headache, fever, and a “sandpapery-feeling” pinkish or red body rash.

A total of 861 cases were recorded in England and Wales up to 27 November, according to data released by the UKHSA.

They included 101 cases in Wales, with 14 recorded in Bridgend and 11 in Cardiff.

In England, the North West recorded the highest number of cases with 137, including 32 in Merseyside, 27 in Lancashire and 27 in Greater Manchester.

A total of 134 cases were recorded in the South East and 128 in the East of England.

Elsewhere, there were:
• 124 cases in the East Midlands
• 103 cases in London
• 46 cases in Yorkshire and the Humber
• 48 cases in the West Midlands
• Five cases in South West – with no recorded cases in Dorset and just one each in Somerset and Devon

The figures also show there were 9,772 recorded cases of scarlet fever in England and Wales in the last 20 weeks up to 27 November.

This is compared to 1,255 cases in the same period in 2021 and just 530 in 2022, although both years would have been affected by the pandemic, when children were mixing less.

In total, there have been 21,717 recorded cases of scarlet fever so far in 2022, up to 27 November.

Read more:
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms?
Strep A generally causes mild infections – why the spate of deaths now?

Areas with invasive Strep A disease

iGAS – or invasive Group A Strep – can be a life-threatening infection in which the bacteria have invaded parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscle or lungs.

There were eight confirmed cases in England and Wales in the week up to 27 November, according to data released by UKHSA.

They were in Croydon, south London; Ealing, west London; Knowsley in Merseyside; North Somerset; Oldham in Greater Manchester; Redcar and Cleveland; Rushmoor in Hampshire; and the Vale of Glamorgan.

Before the death of a child in Belfast was confirmed, it was revealed a primary school pupil in Waterlooville, Hampshire, had died with a Strep A infection.

Muhammad Ibrahim Ali
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Muhammad Ibrahim Ali died with a Strep A infection

Other known victims include a year eight student at a secondary school in southeast London; four-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Ali in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire; and a child in Ealing, west London.

A pupil at a primary school near Cardiff, has also died from the infection, as well as a six-year-old child who died after an outbreak at Ashford Church of England School in Surrey.

Meanwhile, four-year-old Camila Rose Burns has been on a ventilator in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool after contracting Strep A.

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