According to the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), strep A has caused approximately 30 deaths in children across the U.K. within a span of four months, between September 2022 and January 2023.
Strep A, or Group A Streptococcus, is a bacterial infection that can cause mild symptoms from sore throat, scarlet fever, or impetigo. Some common symptoms include throat pain, and pain when swallowing, on top of red tonsils. For many, it brings mild symptoms that can be easily treated, but it can also be fatal. There are approximately 1.8 million cases of new strep A bacterial infections across the world and bringing around 500,000 deaths every year.
These deaths arise from acute cases of strep A, usually occurring in children and the elderly population. The high rise of strep A cases in Europe may be caused by a mix of the pandemic and heightened transmissibility, as lockdowns might have contributed to weakened immune systems. Additionally, the bacteria may have gained new genes, or developed antibiotic resistance.
Dr. Obaghe Edeghere of the UKHSA said the rise of strep A cases is "understandably concerning for parents,” but that it can “be easily treated with antibiotics and it is very rare that a child will go on to become more seriously ill."
"Over the winter, there are lots of illnesses circulating that can make children unwell and so it is important to avoid contact with other people if you are feeling unwell, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly and catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue", continued Dr. Edeghere.
It is important to keep an eye on children and make sure they are not showing symptoms of strep A. If they are experiencing any symptoms, such as high fever, fatigue, or a change in appetite, it is crucial to take them to a healthcare professional.
How does strep A look in low-income regions?
Strep A in lower-income areas is more severe. The most general form of strep A-related disease is rheumatic heart disease, which is characterized by permanent damage to the heart's valves, heart failure, pregnancy complications, and other difficult conditions that frequently result in premature death.
In low-income areas and among indigenous people residing in high-income settings, rheumatic heart disease is significantly more prevalent. Methods of refining the early diagnosis and treatment of strep A infections in these settings are urgently required to prevent its subsequent effects.
The lack of funding for operational research to fill this void and inform disease control programs contrasts with the severe impact of strep A diseases in low-income settings, which include chronic illness and death. It is disheartening when a strep A infection results in the death of any child or brings a lifelong aftermath. The prevalence in low-income regions has long been neglected, thus they must be given the attention they deserve.
- GOV.UK UKHSA update on scarlet fever and invasive group A strep
- National Health Service Streptococcus A (strep A)