England’s chief pharmaceutical officer has admitted that local pharmacies may be in short supply of some antibiotics to treat strep A infections.
But David Webb also said “sufficient” stocks were in stock nationally as he tried to reassure parents concerned about the current outbreak.
Pharmacists have complained about a lack of antibiotics, including the liquid version of penicillin, which is often given to children.
Mr Webb’s comments came as the number of young people under the age of 15 who have died after contracting Strep A in the UK rose to 15, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
New data for England shows the number of deaths since September has risen to 13.
The other two deaths were in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Illnesses caused by strep A include scarlet fever, strep throat, and skin infection impetigo.
Although most infections are mild, the bacteria can develop into a life-threatening disease called invasive group A strep disease.
The National Association of Pharmacies has pointed to “ups and downs” in the liquid penicillin supply chain, while the Independent Multiple Pharmacy Association said pharmacists were struggling to get everything they needed.
Pharmacy director Zeshan Rehmani criticized the Health Department for being “out of touch” after it mooted proposals to give antibiotics to children in schools to help fend off diseases like strep A – telling Sky News: “There are no drugs. Today, we have not been able to get any penicillin in stock.”
But England’s NHS Pharmaceutical Director David Webb said: “Local pharmacy teams may be experiencing a temporary supply disruption of some relevant antibiotics due to increased demand. Nationally, there is sufficient stock for the NHS.” .
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A spokesman for the Department of Health said there was no “supplier shortage” of antibiotics to treat strep A, but conceded that “there were sometimes product surges, and increased demand means some pharmacies are having a hard time getting certain antibiotics”.
A statement added: “We are working urgently with manufacturers and wholesalers to explore what can be done to speed up deliveries and bring forward the stock they have to help ensure it gets to where it is needed, to meet demand as quickly as possible and to support the access to these vital medicines.
No evidence of new strain
Since September, the UKHSA said there have been 652 reports of the invasive form of the disease, more than during the same period in the last five years.
In the current season of strep A infections, there have been 85 cases in children from one to four years of age.
That compares with 194 infections in that age group during the entire last peak season in 2017/2018.
There have also been 60 cases in children ages five to nine. Since September, 60 deaths have been reported across all age groups in England.
The rise in infections is believed to be due to the large numbers of bacteria and increased social mixing, the UKHSA added.
There is no current evidence that a new strain is circulating, the agency said.
“There are plenty of winter bugs going around that can make your child feel unwell, most of which are no cause for alarm,” UKHSA deputy director Dr Colin Brown said.
“However, be sure to talk to a health professional if your child worsens after a bout of scarlet fever, sore throat, or respiratory infection; watch for signs such as a fever that won’t go down, dehydration, extreme tiredness, and shortness of breath.” .