A series of children’s deaths from Strep A Alarm health officials
A common bacterial infection known as strep A is believed to have killed more than a dozen children in the UK in recent months. On Friday, health officials reported another death linked to the bacteria, which can, in rare cases, cause a more invasive and life-threatening infection. There are likely several reasons why the outbreak appears to be more serious than usual, although government experts have ruled out a more virulent strain behind it.
At least 13 children in England died within a week developing serious Streptococcus A infection as of September, according to the update released On Thursday from the UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA), while two deaths were reported in Ireland and Wales. Officials from UKHSA and Brighton & Hove City Council jointly announced the latest suspected death on Friday, although it is not yet clear whether this death is an addition to the official toll, according to BBC. In total, at least 60 deaths have been reported in England.
Strep A, also known as group A streptococcus, are bacteria which can cause various infectious diseases along different parts of the body, including strep throat, scarlet fever and impetigo. Typically, these infections cause only mild illness or can be effectively treated with antibiotics. But from time to time they can cause much more serious problems. The particular form of streptococcal A linked to these deaths is called invasive group A streptococcal disease (iGAS), which occurs when the bacteria (or their toxins) enter more vulnerable parts of the body such as the bloodstream. Once there, the infection can quickly cause life-threatening symptoms such as septic shock, organ failure, or necrotizing fasciitis (a “flesh-eating” disease).
Outbreaks of strep A occur regularly, but the typical season for it in the UK starts at the beginning of the year. This season is on track to be the most widespread and deadly in years. The last severe strep A season occurred between 2017 and 2018, which ultimately caused a total of 355 deaths, including 27 in children.
Study from 2019 found evidence that the recent emergence of new Strep A strains contributed to the large spikes in scarlet fever reported in the UK in the second half of the 2010s. But according to the UKHSA, there is no data to suggest that the new variant is responsible for the intensity or higher rate of cases recorded this year.
Instead, they argue that the increase is likely the result of “increased susceptibility to these infections in children due to the low number of cases during the pandemic, coupled with the current circulation of respiratory viruses.” This year we are seeing the return of respiratory infections such as influenza and RSV in the UK and elsewhere, often in waves outside their normal season. And it is known that people may be more susceptible to developing iGAS if they become infected with Streptococcus A while sick with another infection such as the flu.
Like Great Britain, the USA has seen high level flu and RSV activity this fall and winter, while covid-19 cases are currently lower than they have been over the past two winters, but have been on the rise lately. And the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is watching has there been an increase in cases of iGAS among children in the USA this year as well?