Alarm bells are ringing in the US after several children's hospitals detected an increase in invasive group A strep infections, which proved fatal for 15 children in the UK. Children's hospitals in Colorado, Washington, Arizona, and Texas are seeing a higher-than-average number of cases compared to the same period in past years.
Dr James Versalovic, a pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, said they have seen a greater than fourfold increase in potentially invasive infections in the last two months compared to the same period in 2021. He revealed that the hospital recorded 60 cases in October and November.
Fatal When Infection Slips Into the Blood
The infection can sometimes be life-threatening. It occurs when bacteria spread to areas of the body, particularly the bloodstream. Dr Sam Dominguez, an infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital Colorado and professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said children who develop severe group A strep infections will start out with having a viral respiratory infection.
The infection can trigger lower airway infections like pneumonia or emphysema, which are characterized by pockets of pus in the fluid-filled space surrounding the lungs. Some early symptoms of the infection include chills, fever, and difficulty in breathing or chest pain. Health experts say anyone can get infected with invasive strep A, including healthy adults and people over 65 years of age, particularly those with chronic illness are more susceptible.
Reason for Increasing Strep A Cases Unclear
As for the increasing number of strep A cases in the United States, experts are unclear as to the reason. The CDC believes it may be related to the rollback of the COVID mitigation measures and the increase of respiratory viruses like flu, COVID-19 and RSV. It said invasive infections are rare in the US – around 14,000 to 25,000 cases annually, and around 1,500 – 2,300 people die of the invasive infections every year.
Meanwhile, doctors are treating children of all ages for invasive group strep A. Dr Wassim Ballan, the division chief of infectious diseases, said case numbers have been increasing at Phoenix Children's Hospital since the end of October or early November. There may be an uptick in cases, but the number itself is not huge. Dr Sara Vora, an infectious disease expert at Seattle Children's Hospital, said they have had teenagers, younger children – more like the whole range. "We had a fairly sick teenager last week who came in with kind of a sepsis presentation and was in the ICU on a ventilator for a few days and then had a fairly rapid recovery and is doing very well," she said. "That's probably the most severe case that I have seen."
Seek Medical Attention
Vora advised that if a child seems to have symptoms that are worse than just an average cold or lasting longer than a couple of days, it should be examined. Dominguez suggested that parents who are worried should seek emergency medical attention if their children are sleepier or more lethargic than normal, and have trouble eating or drinking, or are overly dehydrated and not producing urine.