Strep tests will be distributed to paediatricians as part of the additional measures announced by the health ministry on Monday after the recent outbreak of streptococcus type A infections in the UK.
“The situation is manageable at the moment, fortunately we do not have any cases in our country, but we will not be complacent,” Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela said after the meeting.
He explained that the island has ‘special relations’ with the UK and many infections in Cyprus are transmitted from students and other Cypriots living in the UK who travel to the island over the holidays.
Thus, the ministry decided to take additional measures, after it published information on A strep (iGAS) last week, citing an increase in infections in children under ten years old in the UK and France.
The first measure, Hadjipantela said, is to prepare and send updated guidelines to the paediatric society, the Cyprus medical association and the health insurance organisation (HIO).
Efforts will also be made to provide paediatricians with strep tests which quickly detect the infection that might show similar symptoms with viruses. Hadjipantela added that a proposal will also be forwarded to cabinet on Tuesday to set a price ceiling of €5 on those tests.
To monitor the infection, the health ministry’s epidemiological team will carry out a weekly review on the basis of which authorities will decide further actions.
Hadjipantela also advised travellers to the UK to be careful and if children have any symptoms to speak to their personal physician and paediatrician.
In his own statements, the president of the Paediatric Society Michael Anastasiades welcomed the measures decided and noted that there are effective treatments for the microbial infection. “There are appropriate antibiotics which, upon early diagnosis, can be used to treat all such infections,” the doctor said.
“Acting proactively, we are treating this phenomenon with due diligence by informing both health professionals and the public, while urging them to remain calm as there is no cause at this time, of real concern,” Anastasiades said.
He noted that the scientific community has not concluded on what caused this recent outbreak since no new strain has been identified that could explain this surge in cases.
But he estimated that the conditions in the post-Covid era which led to the outbreak of all other viral infections also caused the streptococcus type A outbreak.
Anastasiades blamed the recent child deaths in the UK to health system failures and said this will not happen in Cyprus.
“We think that what is happening in the UK probably has to do with factors beyond the severity of the disease itself that have to do with the immediate response of the health system there. We believe that with the conditions we have in Cyprus, with the immediate accessibility to doctors for children, we will not experience this kind of phenomenon.”
The preventive measures to address and monitor the outbreak were taken by the ministry in collaboration with the Cyprus Paediatric society during a meeting that was held on Monday morning to review the situation.
Streptococcus A (GAS) is a common bacteria that many people carry on their throats and skin without showing symptoms of infection (healthy carriers), the health ministry had explained on Thursday. However, this particular pathogenic bacterium can in some cases cause an infection, mild or even more serious such as tonsillitis, pharyngitis and scarlet fever.
It is transmitted mainly by direct contact with discharges from the nose and throat of infected people or by contact with infected wounds or sores on the skin.
The ministry noted that the serious infections associated with strep are from invasive group A strep (iGAS). These infections are caused when bacteria are carried to parts of the body where they are not normally detected, such as the lungs or elsewhere through the bloodstream.
Strep infections cause various symptoms such as sore throat, fever, chills and muscle aches, with antibiotic treatment necessary to treat infection. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, children showing signs of dehydration, babies under three months old running a temperature of 38℃ and babies older than three months with a temperature of 39℃ or higher.
The ministry advised proper hand hygiene and strict adherence to personal protection measures are important to stop the spread.