A five-year-old girl who died after contracting a Strep A infection has been named by her school as Stella-Lily McCorkindale.
The P2 pupil attended Black Mountain Primary School in Belfast, which sent a letter to parents on Friday, addressing the “tragic loss” and sending thoughts to the pupil’s family and friends.
In a statement on Tuesday, the school described Stella-Lily as a “very bright and talented little girl” who was “very popular with both staff and children and will be greatly missed by everyone”.
It said: “This is a tragic loss to the Black Mountain Primary School family and our school community, and the thoughts of the entire school are with the Stella-Lily’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time.
“To assist in supporting our pupils and staff at this sad time, additional trained staff from the Education Authority Critical Incident Response Team have been engaged and will be providing support to the school.
“We recognise that this news may cause worry amongst our school community and we want to reassure parents that we continue to work closely with the Public Health Agency at this time.”
Health authorities in Northern Ireland are yet to comment on her death.
The P2 pupil is the ninth in the UK known to have died with a form of Strep A, while health authorities in Ireland are also investigating if a child’s death there is linked to the infection.
Typically, Strep A infections are mild and treated easily with the antibiotic amoxicillin, which is used to treat bacterial infections. But an invasive form of the bacteria, known as iGAS, has increased this year, particularly in those under the age of 10.
There has also been a big leap in the number of scarlet fever cases, symptoms of which can include a sore throat, headache, fever, and a “sandpapery” feeling pinkish or red body rash.
The Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland last week urged parents and carers to be aware of scarlet fever symptoms after clusters of cases had been reported in schools and nurseries in Antrim, Belfast, Bangor and Craigavon.
It said this follows two years during the COVID-19 pandemic when reported cases were lower than usual.
On Tuesday, Schools Minister Nick Gibb, told Sky News that antibiotics could be given to children affected by Strep A in order to stop infection.
Working closely with the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA), Mr Gibb said that “very specific advice” is being given to schools, which “may involve penicillin”.
Dr Colin Brown, UKHSA deputy director, told Sky News there was “long-standing guidance” that enables health protection teams to assess the situation in schools and nurseries to consider antibiotic prophylaxis for “either a group of children in certain classes or an entire nursery school”.
Following the death of at least nine children across the UK, Dr Brown reiterated that there is no evidence to suggest there had been a change to the circulating strains of Strep A to make them more severe.
He suggested that a lack of mixing due to the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to the susceptibility in children that is “bringing forward the normal scarlet fever season,” to this side of Christmas.
Irish health authorities are also doing lab tests to discover if the death of a child in the North East and North Dublin area is linked to Strep A.
The Health Service Executive said there had been “a small increase in iGAS” cases since the start of October, with 55 detected so far this year – 14 of them in children under 10.
It compares with 22 cases in children under 10 for the same period in 2019.