Twelve people died during an outbreak of a rare contagious bacterial strain, it has emerged.
A total of 32 people have been infected across Essex with the invasive Group A streptococcal (iGAS) infection.
The outbreak began in Braintree and cases have been found around Chelmsford and Maldon, the Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) report said.
Public Health England has launched an investigation. The CCG has not confirmed when the 12 people died.
Most of those affected are “elderly and had been receiving care for chronic wounds in the community and care homes”.
The CCG has not said when the first cases were discovered, but did confirm 12 of 32 patients had died – up from 11 deaths and 30 patients mentioned in the report.
Cases were diagnosed in Basildon in 2018 and Southend in February, but “currently there appears to be no direct link between these cases” and the initial outbreak in Braintree.
Hundreds of people, including staff in care homes, have been swabbed and community staff working for adult services providers have been given precautionary antibiotic treatment, the CCG said.
Rachel Hearn, director of nursing and quality at Mid Essex CCG, said: “Our thoughts are with the families of those patients who have died.
“The NHS in Essex is working closely with Public Health England and other partners to manage this local incident, and extra infection control measures have been put in place to prevent the infection spreading in the area.
“The risk of contracting iGAS is very low for the vast majority of people and treatment with antibiotics is very effective, if started early.”
The bacteria can live “on hands or the throat for long enough to allow easy spread between people through sneezing, kissing and skin contact”, according to the report.
Doctors have to report cases of iGAS to local authority public health officers to help prevent the spread of infection.
The number of cases reported almost tripled between 2013 and 2018 across England and Wales.
There were 664 reported cases in 2018 compared with 223 in 2013, data from Public Health England showed.
Cases of invasive group A streptococcal disease
Diseases notified to public health officials in England and Wales
Among the 2018 cases, just 10 came from the east of England. The West Midlands saw 122 of them.
People over 65 accounted for 249 cases while 15 were less than year old.