Nine children have died in the UK in recent days from infection with a rare invasive form of group A strep, a bacterium that is normally found in the population but is spreading more than usual this year. On Tuesday, it was confirmed that the infection with this microbe was the cause of death of a five-year-old girl from Northern Ireland. Previously, seven children had died from it in England and one in Wales.
The UK’s Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) explains that group A strep (GAS) is a type of bacteria found in the throat and on the skin and most people do not have any symptoms. However, it can cause a number of different diseases of the nose, throat and lungs in some cases. The bacterium is spread through coughing, sneezing and physical contact with the skin. People who are carriers of strep may not have any symptoms, but they can transmit it just as much as people who get it.
In recent days, the British media reported fatal cases of group A strep infection among children. On Tuesday, it was confirmed that the infection with this microbe was the cause of death of a five-year-old girl from Ireland north. Previously, seven children died because of it in Englandand one in Wales.
Group A strep infection. What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of group A strep infection include pain when swallowing, fever, swollen tonsils with white patches, swollen neck glands, high temperature or skin rash. This bacterium can also cause ailments such as tonsillitis, pharyngitis, scarlet fever, skin infections and pneumonia.
Most cases of throat infection go away on their own, skin infections may require antibiotics.
Invasive form of streptococcus
But group A strep (GAS) can also, in some cases, cause very serious infections, known as invasive GAS (iGAS). This happens when the bacteria bypasses the body’s natural defenses and enters parts of the body where it is not normally present, such as through the blood, deep muscles or lungs. The most severe forms of invasive GAS are streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, which is characterized by high fever, low blood pressure, scarlet fever, kidney or liver damage, and vomiting and diarrhea – and necrotizing fasciitis, which is an infection that causes tissue destruction and requires surgery.
Both of these forms of infection are uncommon, but toxic shock syndrome has a high mortality rate.
The invasive form of group A strep is rare, but there has been a marked increase in cases this year, especially in children under 10 years old. According to the UKHSA, this year there are 2.3 cases per 100,000. children aged 1 to 4 compared to an average of 0.5 in the years before the pandemic COVID-19 (2017-19) and 1.1 cases per 100,000 children aged 5 to 9 compared to an average of 0.3 in 2017-19.
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