The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is investigating an apparent increase in invasive group A strep infections, but the rise may indicate a return to typical pre-pandemic levels.
Like flu and RSV, invasive group A streptococcal infections, known as iGAS infections, have been curbed by Covid-19 control measures such as masking and social distancing. But in a statement Friday, the CDC said it is now hearing from some physicians and state health departments about an increase in iGAS infections in children.
“It is too early to tell if iGAS cases are just returning to pre-pandemic levels or if they are rising further than we would normally expect based on what we know about GAS seasonal patterns,” CDC spokesperson Kate Grusich wrote. in an email.
“The recent increase in respiratory viruses, particularly flu, may also contribute to a possible increase in iGAS infections. Concomitant or preceding viral infections such as the flu and skin conditions such as chickenpox may increase the risk of iGAS infections.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Friday it is watching an increase in pediatric hospitalizations due to group A strep. The rise follows a drop in cases during the pandemic.
“Invasive group A strep cases have increased in all age groups, but this fall is particularly evident in pediatric patients,” spokesperson Paul Galloway wrote in an email.
Since Nov. 1, 11 cases of invasive group A strep have been reported in children ages 10 months to 6 years in the Denver metro area, the department said. Two children have died, but the official cause of death has not been determined, Galloway said.
This month health officials in the UK advised parents and schools to check for strep A infections following the deaths of several children.
The World Health Organization said on Thursday that France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK have reported increases in iGAS infections and scarlet fever, warning that children under 10 are most at risk.
Group A strep can cause many types of infections, some of which are relatively minor. Strep A, or group A streptococcus, is a bacteria found in the throat and on the skin that commonly causes fever and throat infections such as strep throat or scarlet fever.
Rarer are invasive group A streptococcal infections, including necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.
Necrotizing fasciitis is sometimes referred to as flesh-eating disease. It’s a rare bacterial infection that spreads quickly and can be fatal, according to the CDC. Group A strep is considered the most common cause.
Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, also known as STSS, occurs when bacteria spread in deep tissues and the bloodstream. “STSS can progress very quickly to low blood pressure, multiple organ failure, and even death,” the CDC says.
Strep A is not lethal to most people who become infected, and antibiotics are usually effective in treating it.
There is no vaccine to prevent strep A infections, and the best way to protect yourself against the bacteria is to wash your hands regularly, the CDC says.
“If someone becomes ill with a group A strep infection, timely treatment is important, as it can prevent serious illness and complications,” said Texas Department of State Health Services spokesperson Lara Anton.