Eleven people have died during an outbreak of a highly contagious bacterial infection.

Health officials revealed the people who have died were among 30 people infected across Essex with Strep A - Group A streptococcal infection.

It is believed those who died and were infected were elderly people living in community and care homes.

An investigation into the outbreak has been launched by Public Health England and healthcare staff issued with antiobiotics as a precautionary measure.

The Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said the outbreak of the invasive Group A streptococcal (iGAS) began in Braintree.

Additional cases have been found around Chelmsford and Maldon in Essex.

Group A strep can cause infections which range from minor illnesses to very serious and deadly diseases.

The CCG has not confirmed when the 11 people died and or said when the first case was discovered - but cases were diagnosed in Basildon 2018 and in February 2019 in Southend.

Group A streptococcus can be found in the throat and on the skin and people may carry Group A streptococci in the throat or on the skin and have no symptoms of illness.

It is spread between people through sneezing, kissing and skin contact.

Sometimes life-threatening GAS disease may occur when bacteria get into parts of the body where bacteria usually are not found, such as the blood, muscle, or the lungs.

These infections are termed invasive Group A Streptococcal (iGAS) disease.

The CCG report states: "The incidence was originally confined to the Braintree area, but unfortunately the cases have now spread to the Chelmsford and Maldon areas.

"There has also been a single case in Basildon in 2018 and another in Southend in February 2019, however currently there appears to be no direct link between these cases and the cases in mid Essex.

"An incident management team has been established to put measures in place to control the incident and closely monitor the situation, comprising Public Health England, Provide CiC, NHS Mid Essex CCG, NHS England and NHS Improvement.

"The incident management team have been keeping GPs, hospital and community providers in Essex and care homes informed to give them additional information on IGAS and details of who they should contact if they have concerns."

Common signs and symptoms include throat pain - that usually comes on quickly - painful swallowing, red and swollen tonsils - sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus - red spots at the back of the roof of the mouth, swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, rash, nausea or vomiting and body aches.

If untreated, the infection can cause complications such as kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever - a disease that can affect the heart, joints, brain, and skin.

Strep throat is most common in children, but it affects people of all ages.

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."