THE death of five-year-old Stella-Lily McCorkindale from illness related to the Strep A infection has brought unimaginable heartbreak to her family and shock and sadness to the wider community.

Black Mountain Primary 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.”

As well as paying a moving tribute to their pupil, the school outlined steps that have been taken as a response to the tragedy. They said the Education Authority’s Critical Reponse Team has been engaged and will be providing assistance and support as and when it is needed. The school added that it is also working closely with the Public Health Authority. Such steps are absolutely necessary and head teachers at all schools must and will be keeping a close eye on their children to ensure that they can engage similar help and support at as early a stage as possible.

We spoke this week with the mother of an Ardoyne four-year-old who fell desperately ill with a Strep A-related illness and in our interview she outlined the timeline and nature of her son’s illness – that’s vital information that parents, carers and teaching staff must familiarise themselves with as we struggle to understand the extent and causation of this concerning Strep A spike.

Briefly, the main symptoms to look out for are:
• Pain when swallowing.
• Fever.
• Swollen tonsils.
•Swollen neck glands.
• High temperature.
• Fine red or pink rash that can often feel like light sandpaper.

While this basic knowledge is vital as parents, carers and teaching staff look for symptoms that can lead to potentially life-saving early interventions, we would all do well to take time to familiarise ourselves further with the infection and its progression. A particularly good source for vital information is where you can search for Strep A to locate the most up-to-date information on the progression of the outbreak and the latest advice on symptoms and care.

While the Strep A deaths and the rising number of cases cannot yet be called a crisis, British Schools Minister Nick Gibb is considering the preventative administration of antibiotics to schoolchildren in a bid to stop the infection spread. The mass distribution of antibiotics is a step that health officials have always been loath to take since it could strengthen the human body’s resistance to antibiotics on a wide scale.

That plan, were it to be rolled out in the North, would face the not inconsiderable obstacle of a severe shortage of antibiotics in hospitals and pharmacies here. While the crucial work of battling the infection and spreading awareness continues, health authorities must do all in their power to see that supplies are adequate. That task is made much more difficult by the absence of a Health Minister; neverthe-less, it is a problem which must be quickly addressed.