Health professionals should be aware that a seemingly "innocuous" sore throat bug can lead to maternal deaths if left untreated, says a report from The Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE).

The Group A streptococcal infection, which causes the sore throat, is easily spread - often through close contact with children - and is most common during the winter months.

Pregnant women and women who have just given birth are most vulnerable to a severe form of the bug, which can be fatal. However, if diagnosed in time, the bug is easily treatable with antibiotics.

Tragically death rates have risen by nearly a third since 2005 and all of the women who died either had young children or worked with them.

It's thought the rise is partly attributable to the fact that it's a notoriously difficult bug to diagnose (other symptoms can include a fever and skin infection), and women sometimes "downplay" the sore throat element, which can result in the wrong diagnosis. Once the bug takes hold, it can be too late to treat it with antibiotics.

Dr Imogen Stephens, clinical director at The Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE), said: "It's shocking that something like an infection - and infection from a reasonable well-known organism - is a major cause of maternal mortality."

She added: "While pregnancy is a lovely time, it's not without risk. Pregnant women and their families need to be more aware and wash their hands."

Posted by Penny Hosie on 1.3.11 Comment on this article by sending it to: penny.hosie@pavpub.com