An expert who is helping investigate the outbreak of strep A has revealed the steps initially taken when the first cases were reported in Braintree.

Public Health England's deputy director of health protection, Dr Jorg Hoffmann, says outbreaks of the deadly bacterial infection, which has killed 13 in mid Essex, are not uncommon but has conceded the incident is "large" compared to other cases.

Mr Hoffman made the claims during a meeting of the Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group at Spring Lodge Community Centre in Witham.

Board members were told steps were taken immediately after the first two cases of strep A was recorded in February earlier this year.

Mr Hoffman said: "In this outbreak, we had the first signal in the beginning of February when two cases were notified within quick succession. Both were in the Braintree area.

"This was then looked into in February and the normal public health actions taken obviously for the close contact of these cases but also proactively we looked into laboratory systems and previous notification data of whether there is anything that connects this to previous cases which may have been seen as sporadic but maybe connected.

"Indeed we found some cases, three from last year, that were connected with the same strain type.

"We also proactively sent a field investigatory team out to Braintree to get GP records of those patients and to look at district nursing records.

"The first step is always to confirm an outbreak. Throughout this period, advice was given on control measures and these include enhanced testing of patients and treatment should they carry the infection without it being invasive

"Testing of nursing staff was undertaken who may have carried this infection and inadvertently have passed this on, its very easy to do that if you carry it in your throat.

"All these tests came back negative, so the control measures already mentioned, such as offering antibiotics to nursing staff was decided upon instead to eradicate any possible carriage to reduce the risk to the vulnerable patients group."

Mr Hoffman went on to state the strand of strep A in Essex was not a superbug and said the strain was "no more infectious than any other strains".

He added: "Outbreaks of IGAS are not that uncommon but we are dealing with quite a large outbreak here. We do see outbreaks in settings such as prisons or hospitals wards or in care homes.

"The setting for this outbreak is not that common we have connected this to a very elderly and vulnerable population who have wounds and are receiving community nursing care.

"That is also not unprecedented. As we speak, we have other outbreaks like this in other parts of the country although they are somewhat smaller.

"This is not the biggest outbreak of this type.

“It is difficult to predict when the outbreak will be over. With this one, you can carry the infection without being ill for long periods of time on the skin.

“While the incubation period for strep A is probably days when exposed and susceptible, we would probably have to wait a significant number of weeks having no new cases to be able to say this outbreak is over.”