Twelve people have died after 32 became infected in a “very serious” outbreak of a rare contagious bacteria.
Public Health England (PHE) on Tuesday warned there was a “high risk” of further fatalities from the “ongoing outbreak” of the invasive Group A streptococcal (iGAS) infection.
The bacteria can be found in the throat and on the skin and people may carry it without displaying any symptoms.
It can live in throats and on hands for long enough to allow easy spread between people through sneezing, kissing and skin contact.
Most infections cause mild illnesses such as “strep throat,” scarlet fever or a skin infection. But the bacteria can enter the body and cause severe and life-threatening conditions.
Health officials said most of those affected were pensioners receiving care for chronic wounds, in care homes and the community.
The first cases are understood to have been identified in February with cases found in Braintree, Chelmsford and Maldon.
Dr Jorg Hoffman, deputy director of health protection for PHE East of England, described it as “a very serious situation”.
He said: “This is still an ongoing outbreak. Unfortunately we have so far not been able to fully contain the situation.
“Obviously we are hoping that the efforts of our colleagues in the NHS and provider organisations are now bearing some fruit and we will be able to contain the situation and prevent further cases from happening.