Beat the back to school BUGS! From Strep A to the new Covid variant Pirola and RSV – all the symptoms you must know | The Sun

OVER the coming weeks millions of British children will be flooding into school classrooms all over the country.

Along with their shiny new lunchboxes, parents will send off their kids with hopes they enrich their minds, have fun, make lots of friends and don't bring home any nasty bugs.

Sadly, there is a very high chance your little one will bring back a nasty gift for the family – but why?

As part of The Sun's Back To School series this week, we're here to help you and your child ease into the new school year in the best possible shape, physically and mentally.

From tackling nits to making nutritious packed lunches, clocking mental health issues early and knowing your way round childhood vaccinations, we have you and your family covered.

Viruses and bugs are spread via the things we touch and the air we breathe explains Pharmacist Thoruun Govind.

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She tells the Sun: "Children get very excited when they go back to school, there is often lots of hugging and playing between friends they haven't seen all summer.

"All that close contact means bugs can easily spread.

"They also tend to cough and sneeze without covering their mouths and don't always wash their hands without parental supervision."

Going back to school for most children means a big change to their daily routine.

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Long gone are the lie-ins, late nights and days with little or nothing planned.

As the term begins, lots of children find themselves waking up earlier, working hard at school, socialising lots, then going to clubs or playing sports.

"They can get tired which can make their immune systems weaker, leaving them more prone to picking up bugs," Thorrun adds.

The bugs to watch out for

The common cold

The first bug to be aware of when you little one heads back is rhinovirus, commonly known as the common cold.

Speaking to the Sun, Professor John Tregoning, of Imperial College London, says: "It usually peaks in about October, but never really goes away."

The main symptoms are your classic coughs, sneezes and runny noses, the expert explains.

"Whilst it can be a bit more serious in children with asthma, it is self resolving and, like all viral infections, does not need antibiotics," he adds.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

As the term plods on, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is likely to raise its ugly head.

"This usually peaks around Christmas time," the expert says.

"This should not be a problem for school aged children, but can be serious in babies less than one year old; so worth keeping an eye on younger siblings," he adds.

In the UK about 30,000 babies and children under five need hospital treatment every year due to RSV, though fewer than 90 now die from it

It’s a leading cause of infant mortality and is especially dangerous to babies born prematurely.

Cases of the bug, which infects the lungs, have surged last winter, especially among under-fives.

Covid lockdowns left many with no immunity.

Symptoms include runny nose, sneezing or nasal congestion, cough, and sometimes fever.


Influenza, or flu, peaks around the same time as RSV, prof John says.

"As with RSV school aged children don’t get a very severe infection – but the major risk here is passing it onto elderly relatives.

The NHS suggests getting your child vaccinated, which protects both the child and can reduce transmission to others.

Children from reception up to year 11 will be offered the free spray flu vaccine in schools this year.

Symptoms include a fever above 37.9C, breathlessness, rapid breathing, cough, runny and blocked nose as well as sneezing.


Covid is usually quite mild in children over the age of four.

"In most children, this will present as a cold, indistinguishable from other viruses," the expert says.

New figures suggest cases of the bug have nearly doubled in a month.

Figures from the ZOE health study show there 93,432 symptomatic cases on September 1, up from around 50,000 at the start of August.

It comes as experts fear the 'Pirola' variant, known scientifically as BA.2.86 could infect the vaccinated.

However, there is no evidence to suggest the new strains are any more dangerous than previous variants.

Carers, pregnant women, and health and social care staff will all be among the groups to be offered a Covid and flu jab this autumn, as well as adults aged 65 and over.

School children, who return to classrooms this month, will not be eligible for a dose.

Scarlet fever

Another bug to have you eye on is scarlet fever, which is caused by the Strep A bacteria,  the prof says.

The nasty bacterial infection can lead lead to tonsillitis, skin infections and in very serious cases a life-threatening illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease (iGAS).

Cases of Strep A surged last winter, peaking in December.

During that time a total of 426 people – including 48 children – died with iGAS in England.

For comparison, in the 2017 to 2018 season, there were 354 deaths in total, including 27 deaths in children under 18.

Experts fear a lack of socialising among children during the Covid pandemic may have caused a drop in population immunity.

So far this year, cases appear to be "stable," the UKHSA said in its most recent update.

Some 2,016 cases of scarlet fever have been reported between July 9 and August 27 this summer, compared to 3,661 cases during the same time period in 2022.

Symptoms of scarlet fever can be flu-like, including a high temperature, sore throat and swollen neck glands.

It also brings on a red raised rash on the chest and tummy, which spreads to other parts of the body.

The NHS recommends people see their GP if a sore throat does not improve after a week, if they have a high temperature, or feel hot and shivery.


Norovirus is a bug most parents fear most.

Nicknamed the "winter vomiting bug", it does exactly what it says on the tin: it causes vomiting and often violent diarrhoea.

According to UKHSA outbreaks are common where people have close contact, such as in schools and nurseries.

The most recent figures suggests cases of of the bug are unseasonably high – 66 per cent higher than the 5-season average of the same period.

However, the good news is infections are currently falling.

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The report states that between July 31 and Augsut 27 there have been on average, 310 cases of norovirus.

This is 14 per cent fewer cases than the week before.

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