Common Myths Surrounding Strep A And Other Typical School Illnesses Debunked
Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash
With the new school year fully underway and the October half-term fast approaching, data from the Department for Education shows that on average students across all years lost nearly two weeks of school due to illness last year.
According to their figures, the average illness rate for the academic year 22/23 was around 3.8% which would account for around eight days of the 195-day school year lost. Although the number might be slightly higher, with around 0.1% of unauthorised absences still missing reporting no reason given for the child’s absence.
Children of all ages miss out on more than just education when they are absent from school, including social skills, particularly for younger children who need a school environment for their development, and it could even affect their ability to build relationships with their peers.
Having entered the return to school period in September, to help parents better understand when their child needs to miss school and when they are safe to go in to avoid spreading or worsening illnesses, Medical Tracker has looked at some of the most common myths surrounding typical illnesses that can impact school children.
They looked at five illnesses in particular; Strep A, Chickenpox, Impetigo, Tonsillitis and Meningitis.
Strep A is a common type of bacterial infection that presents as a sore throat and flu-like symptoms. Most cases tend to be mild and easily treated, but some can be more serious.
Interestingly during mid-December, the illness rate reported by DFE rose as high as 9.2% during which time there was a reported outbreak of Strep A (Streptococcus) which gained national attention.
NHS England data shows that over 12 months between 2022 and 2023, there were over eleven thousand confirmed cases of Streptococcus infections amongst children of school age. 503 of these were caused by the specific Strep A strain.
According to Medical Tracker, one of the most common myths surrounding this illness states that Strep can only be spread by touching surfaces contaminated with the bacteria, which is actually not the case.
While contact with contaminated surfaces is one way to contract strep, the illness is also transmitted through water droplets meaning it can be spread through coughs and sneezes.
An infection on your tonsils, tonsillitis is common in children and can be very uncomfortable, with symptoms including but not limited to a sore throat, trouble swallowing, a high temperature, and increased tiredness.
According to NHS England data, there were over 47 thousand diagnosed cases of tonsillitis amongst children aged between one and sixteen years old last year.
There is a common misconception that tonsillitis is contagious which isn’t technically true. While many of the illnesses that can cause tonsillitis such as the common cold or the flu are contagious, tonsillitis on its own isn’t.
One of the most well-known and common illnesses in children, chickenpox, whilst uncomfortable, is usually fairly mild. The main symptom is an itchy, spotty rash that can cause scarring if scratched repeatedly.
Chickenpox tends to go away on its own after a week or two, and usually, you won’t need to see a GP or visit the hospital which is reflected in the number of confirmed cases, with 4,981 confirmed diagnoses amongst school children.
However whilst the illness is pretty well-known there are several myths and misconceptions that parents can still fall victim to. For example, you will often hear that once you’ve had chickenpox, you are immune from it for life.
This is unfortunately not the case. While most people will develop antibodies following contracting chickenpox that helps to fight off future infections, not everyone will develop enough antibodies to be immune, and so they may be vulnerable to contracting the illness again.
Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes around the brain and spine and can cause sepsis (blood poisoning) or lasting nerve damage. Symptoms include stiffness, a high temperature, listlessness and a rash that is still visible beneath a glass when you apply pressure.
There were 501 confirmed diagnoses of both bacterial and viral meningitis in children aged between five and sixteen between April 2022 to March 2023.
While there is a vaccine that can help prevent meningitis, one of the misconceptions surrounding this illness is that due to ‘herd immunity’ the vaccine is no longer needed.
Despite herd immunity being a benefit to those who cannot get a vaccine, this only works if the majority of people who can be vaccinated are. In addition to this, herd immunity is not foolproof. Those who are unvaccinated and exposed to an outbreak are more susceptible to contracting the illness.
Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection that causes sores and blotchy rashes on the skin. Whilst these can be itchy and painful, most cases of impetigo aren’t serious and will resolve themselves in seven to 10 days.
There were 1,264 diagnosed cases of Impetigo amongst school-aged children between 2022 and 2023.
Impetigo is highly contagious, although there is a common myth that this is only true when the symptoms are visible.
However this isn't the case, and while it can take up to 10 days for symptoms of impetigo to appear, impetigo is contagious during that entire time. That means you could be spreading the bacteria to others without even knowing you're sick.