'Broken' father of girl, four, on ventilator with Strep A warns parents not to hesitate over symptoms

2 December 2022, 22:27 | Updated: 3 December 2022, 08:16

Camila Rose Burns (left) Muhammad Ibrahim Ali (right) and Hanna Roap (centre)
Camila Rose Burns (left) Muhammad Ibrahim Ali (right) and Hanna Roap (centre). Picture: Family handout/crowdfunder

By Kit Heren

The "broken" father of a four-year-old girl, who is fighting for her life on a ventilator with Strep A, has warned parents not to hesitate over quickly-developing symptoms.

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Little Camila Rose Burns was described as "the poorliest girl in England" after her health deteriorated in the space of just one weekend after getting the bug.

Her father, Dean Burns, said she had been dancing with friends on Friday evening but by Monday was instead fighting for her life on a ventilator at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool.

She went from feeling "a little under the weather" on the Saturday before her condition worsened on Sunday and she needed emergency care by Monday, he told Sky.

Six children have now died of Strep A this winter, health bosses revealed on Friday.

Mr Burns told of the dread he felt having to watch his daughter suffer.

"The pain that she feels and that we all feel, you can't even imagine it," he told the Mail. "It's the worst pain in the world.

"I wake up every day now and it's that dread, just knowing that she's in there and that she's suffering.

"We go into the hospital and we just say 'come on, come on, we need you to live, you have to get better.'"

He went on to add: "These last couple of days we have just been so completely broken.

"My wife was holding it in but these last couple of days with all the news coming in about other children with Strep A has just made it all so difficult and so real.

"I owe those nurses and doctors everything, they saved her life but she is still clinging on for it."

Camila is fighting for her life on a ventilator
Camila is fighting for her life on a ventilator. Picture: Family handout

It comes as experts have warned that the outbreak could be linked to lockdown weakening immune systems.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said there had been a rise in cases of rare invasive Group A strep this year, particularly in children under 10, with five deaths in England this season and one in Wales.

Serious cases of normally harmless bacterial infection Strep A are nearly five times higher among young children than pre-pandemic, officials have said. 

Strep A is a bacterial infection which affects the throat and skin. Although most cases cause a mild illness, some cases can be life-threatening and lead to scarlet fever.

And some experts have said the rise could be linked to lockdown, meaning children have not exposed to each other's germs over the past two years.

That could weaken their natural immune defences, some scientists said.

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline: "You’ll be aware of lockdowns having an effect on immunity for things like flu – the principle is the same.

"[A] lack of mixing in kids may have caused a drop in population-wide immunity that could increase transmission in that age group.’He added:

"I’m currently unaware that it’s some horrible new strain, in fact, I would bet that it’s not.

"I do expect there to be further cases over the coming weeks and probably months."

Professor Ian Jones, an infectious disease expert at Reading University, added: "Death in young kids is indeed tragic but I don’t, unfortunately to say, see it as out of the ordinary yet."

He went on: "It is possible there has been a lockdown-related reduction in natural immunity and we are now seeing a bounce with school attendance,’ Jones said.

Muhammad Ibrahim Ali
Muhammad Ibrahim Ali. Picture: Just Giving

But he said that the lockdown theory was "not proven", given the year-to-year variability in cases.

Strep A is a bacterial infection which affects the throat and skin. Although most cases cause a mild illness, some cases can be life-threatening and lead to scarlet fever.

Parents were urged to be vigilant for signs of infection after it was confirmed a fourth child has died after contracting Strep A.

Four-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Ali died at his home on November 14, after suffering a cardiac arrest.

He had been given antibiotics to treat a rash on his body but also suffered with a cough and complained of stomach pains.

Speaking of the close bond with her little boy, Muhammad's mum told Bucks Free Press: "The loss is great and nothing will replace that.

"He was very helpful around the house and quite adventurous, he loved exploring and enjoyed the forest school, his best day was a Monday and said how Monday was the best day of the week.

"He also had a very close bond with his dad. He was his best friend and went everywhere with him. He just wanted to be with him."

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Strep A: Dr reassures listeners 'most cases come and go'

Earlier authorities confirmed the death of a third child who attended St John’s School in Ealing, West London.

Two other primary school pupils, one in Wales and another in Surrey, died of the deadly disease less than a week apart.

Hanna Roap, who attended Victoria Primary School in Penarth, died after contracting the bug last week.

She was described by loved ones as "the most beautiful, bubbly, funny, loveable person".

Meanwhile, the six-year-old pupil who died in Surrey contracted it after an outbreak of the invasive bacteria at Ashford Church of England Primary School.

Another child from the same school was hospitalised but is believed to be recovering.

Hanna Roap
Hanna Roap. Picture: GoFundMe

GPs have warned of 'unusually high' levels of Strep A ever since schools went back in September.

Symptoms are usually mild, including a fever, muscle aches, vomiting and a sore throat. It can also cause scarlet fever.In exceptionally rare cases, the bug — spread in the same way as Covid, through close contact such as sneezing, kissing and touching — can penetrate deeper into the body and cause life-threatening problems such as sepsis.

Health bosses have also urged all Britons to practice good hand hygiene to help stop transmission of the bug, including teaching children to wash their hands properly with soap for 20 seconds and use a tissue to catch coughs and sneezes.

Dr Colin Brown, deputy director, UKHSA, said: "The bacteria usually causes a mild infection producing sore throats or scarlet fever that can be easily treated with antibiotics. 

"In very rare circumstances, this bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness – called invasive Group A strep (iGAS). 

"This is still uncommon however it is important that parents are on the lookout for symptoms and see a doctor as quickly as possible so that their child can be treated and we can stop the infection becoming serious.Make sure you talk to a health professional if your child is showing signs of deteriorating after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat, or a respiratory infection."

The bacteria - sometimes known as Strep Throat - usually causes a sore throat or skin rash and is passed by physical contact or through droplets from sneezing or coughing.

Other symptoms of Strep A include high fever, severe muscle aches, pains in one area of the body and unexplained vomiting or diarrhoea.

In very rare cases, the infection can become invasive and enter parts of the body where bacteria aren't normally found, which can be serious.

Crowdfunder for Muhammad Ibrahim Ali

Crowdfunder for Hanna Roap