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BRITAIN TRYING TO CALM FEARS OF KILLER STREP

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Public health officials are seeking to calm growing fears in Britain that a deadly form of strep is spreading throughout the country.

British news reports said Wednesday up to 12 people had been killed by the disease. Tabloids ran headlines like "New Bug Kills Young Mother," "Dither and You Die," and "Killer Bug Ate My Face."The patients suffered from necrotizing fasciitis, in which bacteria make a toxin that destroys fat and skin. The illness spreads rapidly, sometimes too quickly for antibiotics to thwart the destruction.

The Department of Health said Wednesday it could not confirm press reports that 12 people died this year from the illness.

Doctors said there was no cause for concern about a national epidemic because the partients' necrotizing fasciitis could have been caused by a number of organisms. However, doctors were concerned about a cluster of virulent strep infections in Gloucestershire County.

It is the six cases in Gloucestershire that raised nationwide concerns. The doctors say they are baffled, not by the total number of cases in Britain, but by the cluster in one county.

Dr. Sally Nelson at the Gloucestershire Health Authority said strep has killed two people in Gloucestershire and caused serious illness in four others.