Pharmacists can also provide two alternative penicillin medications to ensure there is enough medication for strep A cases.
This comes in the case of scarlet fever, which causes At Strep bacteria, three times the normal rate – causing temporary shortages in some chemists.
The SSP (Severe Shortage Protocol) now covers a total of five medicines, adding to the three issued earlier this week, with one tablet now on the health department’s list.
This means pharmacists can supply alternative forms of penicillin without the patient having to return to the GP if the prescribed penicillin is out of stock.
Health chiefs say SSPs are an ideal approach to manage temporary supply problems.
At least 19 children across the UK have now died from invasive strep A (also known as IGAS), a more serious form of infection that spreads to other parts of the body, such as the lungs and bloodstream.
However, most cases are easily treated and relatively mild, with common symptoms including sore throat, rash and fever.
Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said it had been notified of just over 7,500 cases of scarlet fever – but this figure was “probably an underestimate”.
“We’ve had a lot of reports coming in over the last few days so we’re expecting more,” he told the BBC’s Today program on Saturday.
“That’s about three times more than the same period in a normal season,” he said.
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms of a bacterial infection?
Strep A is a common and usually mild infection – so why the death rate now?
“We had the last bad seasons in 2017 and 2018. And with aggressive Group A strep, that’s more than half of what we usually see in an average season.
“We saw 111 cases in children aged one to four and 74 in children aged five to nine.”
Official UKHSA figures for England and Wales show that it reported 1,702 cases of scarlet fever in the week ending 11 December, 1,352 in the week before that, 1,044 in the week before that and 960 cases in the week ending 20 November – a month’s worth of cases of around double
The latest weekly figure for iGAS cases was 15, up from 10 the previous week.
Professor Hopkins stressed that most children had a mild illness and said he had an “open mind” about why infections were so high.
Some other experts have suggested that this may be because there are Immunity is low due to less mixing during covid lockdown.
Parents are urged to vaccinate their children with the flu nasal spray because strep A infection rates are lower in areas where it is already prevalent.
People with the flu are more likely to develop secondary infections, Professor Hopkins said, adding that people with the flu are often at greater risk of contracting strep.
Children under school age can get the vaccine from their GP, while school-aged children can get it through the School Immunization Service.
The SSP penicillin list now includes:
- Phenoxymethylpenicillin 125mg/5ml oral solution
- Phenoxymethylpenicillin 125mg/5ml oral solution sugar free
- Phenoxymethylpenicillin 250mg/5ml oral solution
- Phenoxymethylpenicillin 250mg/5ml oral solution sugar free
- Phenoxymethylpenicillin 250 mg tablets