A vaccine for strep A is on the horizon after scientists spotted antibodies that fight the infection
A vaccine that protects against step A could be on the horizon after scientists made a breakthrough in understanding how the body fights bacteria.
Strep A it usually causes a mild infection, such as strep throat, impetigo, and scarlet fever. But in extremely rare cases it can lead to a fatal disease. He has killed 24 children in the UK in recent months.
As it stands, the infection can be easily treated with antibiotics if caught early. However, if the bacteria were to become drug-resistant, it would pose a ‘major threat to public health’, experts say.
But Swedish scientists have now found an antibody that fights Strep A bacteria in an unusual way, which they believe could be key to developing a vaccine.
Swedish scientists have now found an antibody that fights Strep A bacteria in an unusual way, which they believe could be key to vaccine development
Strep A is a bacteria that can cause throat, skin and respiratory infections. If the infection is not treated, it can cause serious complications. Ear infections, toxic shock syndrome and kidney inflammation are complications that can occur
Researchers at Lund University studied the blood of patients who had recovered from a severe strep A infection to determine how their immune systems fought the bacteria.
They mapped the antibodies their bodies produced when they were sick from Streptococcus A.
This allowed them to spot those that could be exploited for drugs or vaccines after the infection had occurred.
Researchers using this method have so far failed to develop antibody-based treatments that work against strep A, according to the team.
However, the Swedish group found an antibody that works in a ‘rare’ way against Streptococcus A that has ‘never been described before’ and ‘could explain why so many vaccine attempts have failed’.
Antibodies are shaped like the letter Y. The one they spotted, called Ab25, used its two ‘arms’ to attach to two different parts of a protein on the surface of the Strep A bacteria – called the M protein.
Where this unique process was observed, the body was able to mount a strong response to the bacteria.
Normally, antibodies use one arm to bind to one site, the researchers said. But this procedure is ineffective against Streptococcus A.
dr. Wael Bahnan, an immunologist at Lund and one of the authors of the study, said: ‘This opens up possibilities where previous vaccine attempts have failed and means that the monoclonal antibody we used has the potential to protect against infection.’
The team carried out further tests of the antibody in animals and found that it could produce a ‘strong immune response against the bacteria’.
They have now applied for a patent based on their findings published in the journal EMBO molecular medicineand it is hoped that the antibody will eventually lead to treatment and a vaccine against strep A.
Study author Professor Pontus Nordenfelt said: ‘Normally, an antibody binds via one of its two Y arms to a target protein at one site, regardless of which of the two arms is used for binding.
Although the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, in extremely rare cases the bacteria can cause invasive group A streptococci (iGAS).
Strep A bacteria can cause a number of other infections, including impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat
‘But what we saw – and this is vital information – is that the two Y arms can recognize and attach to two different sites on the same target protein.’
It came after the UK’s Health Safety Agency confirmed last week that five more children had died from Streptococcus A – bringing the total since September to 24.
The vast majority occurred in England (21), followed by Wales (2) and Northern Ireland (1).
Although low, the number of children in Britain who have died from strep A is higher than expected for this time of year.
Twenty-seven under-18s died from the bug in the entire last worst season, 2017/18.
Strep A bacteria can cause a number of infections. Although the vast majority are relatively mild, in extremely rare cases the bacteria can cause invasive group A streptococci (iGAS).
Two of the most severe forms of this invasive disease are necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. Both can kill.
Data suggests that cases of iGAS are already up to five times higher than last winter — which was unusually quiet.
An increase in iGAS cases usually occurs every three to four years, but social distancing during the Covid pandemic is thought to have broken this cycle.
Some experts have suggested that this has reduced immunity to strep A in some children – with a large number of children never having encountered the bacteria in their lives.
High rates of other respiratory viruses — including influenza, RSV and norovirus — may also put children at greater risk of co-infection with Streptococcus A, making them more susceptible to severe illness, the World Health Organization said.
Last week, experts revealed that five times as many penicillin prescriptions were issued compared to the previous three weeks.
They said some forms of antibiotics could be put on a ‘shortage protocol’ to allow pharmacists to give worried parents alternatives, rather than forcing them to wander around different pharmacies or go back to their GP for a new prescription.
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From a ‘bubbly’ seven-year-old whose father tried desperately to save her with CPR, to a four-year-old who loved to explore: Streptococcus A victims so far
Muhammad Ibrahim Ali
The four-year-old boy attended Oakridge School and Nursery in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
He died at home of cardiac arrest in mid-November after contracting a strep A infection.
He was prescribed antibiotics.
His mother Shabana Kousar told Bucks Free Press: ‘The loss is great and nothing will replace it.
‘He was very helpful around the house and quite adventurous, he loved exploring and enjoyed forest school, his best day was Monday and he said Monday was the best day of the week.
Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, who attended Oakridge School and Nursery in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, died after contracting a bacterial infection
A ‘bubbly’ and ‘beautiful’ seven-year-old is the only child to die from strep A in Wales so far.
Her devastated parents said their ‘hearts broke into a million pieces’.
The first signs of infection were mild. Hannah’s father Abul took his daughter to the GP after the cough worsened overnight.
She was prescribed steroids and sent home, but died less than 12 hours later.
Mr Roap recalled how he desperately tried to resuscitate his child: ‘She stopped breathing at 8pm but we didn’t realize it straight away because she was asleep.
‘I did CPR, I tried to revive her, but it didn’t work. Paramedics arrived and resumed CPR but it was too late.’
Mr Roap said the family were ‘absolutely devastated’ and were waiting for answers from the hospital.
The family believes she might have survived if she had been given antibiotics initially.
Hanna Roap, who attended Victoria Primary School in Penarth, Wales, died after contracting strep A last month. Her family say they are ‘traumatised’ by her death
Five-year-old Stella-Lily McCokindale died after contracting strep A, the first death from the infection in Northern Ireland.
She died on December 5 at the Royal Belfast Hospital.
In a tribute on social media, her father Robert said the couple ‘loved every minute’ of being together as they went for scooter and bike rides.
‘If prayers, thoughts, feelings and love could have worked, she would have walked out of that hospital holding her dad’s hand,’ he said.
Stella-Lily attended Black Mountain Primary School, which said she was a ‘bright and talented girl’ and described her death as a ‘tragic loss’.
Five-year-old Stella-Lily McCokindale, who attended Black Mountain Primary School in Belfast, died in early December after contracting strep A
Jax Albert Jefferys
A 5-year-old boy who died of strep A was misdiagnosed with the flu, his family said.
Jax Albert Jefferys, of Waterlooville, Hampshire, died on December 1.
His mother Charlene said she sought medical advice three times in the four days before Jax’s death and was told he had influenza A. She described Jax as a ‘cheeky little boy’.
Later tests revealed that he actually had strep A.
Jax Albert Jefferys, a 5-year-old from Waterlooville, Hampshire, died on December 1 of strep A