Experts are warning of a rise in cases of strep throat, which caused severe complications—and even death—for some children in the US during the 2022-2023 cold and flu season.
According to data from Epic Research, which tracks reports of strep throat, cases have been high for many age groups this year. Children aged four to eight have seen the most dramatic increase.
Dr Jennifer Stevenson, an emergency department physician in Michigan, recently told NBC News, “I’ve been practicing emergency medicine for 25 years, and I have never seen strep throat as frequently as I have in these past six or eight months.”
It’s possible to get strep throat at any age, but infections are most common in children five to 15 years old, per the National Institute of Health (NIH).
Last fall also saw a resurgence of cases of invasive group A Streptococcus infections (iGAS), per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
From 1 October through 31 December 2022, at least two children died of the infections in the US; an outbreak in the UK around that time resulted in the deaths of 14 children.
Symptoms of strep A infections include sore throat; flu-like symptoms, such as fever, body aches, or swollen glands; rash; pain; swelling; vomiting; and nausea.
Though strep throat can be treated with antibiotics, untreated infections can turn dangerous quickly.
An iGAS infection can cause many different complications, some of which can be life-threatening. When the bacteria from an iGAS infection spread to other parts of the body—such as the lungs, fat tissue, deep muscle, or blood—children can become very ill.
Though rare, iGAS infections can lead to necrotizing fasciitis, sometimes referred to as flesh-eating bacteria, or streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS). STSS can cause injury and shock to vital organs including the liver, lungs, and kidneys, as well as low blood pressure. About one-fifth of people who suffer necrotizing fasciitis die, while more than half of people with toxic shock syndrome die, per the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Other potential complications of group A strep include scarlet fever, impetigo, cellulitis, rheumatic fever, and post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis.
There is no vaccine for group A strep infections; however, multiple vaccines are in development, per the CDC. The best way to protect against group A strep is by washing your hands frequently with warm water and soap. It’s also important to avoid people you know to be sick; if you get sick, you should stay home as much as possible to avoid spreading the infection to others in your community.