A rare, invasive form of a usually mild and common bacterial infection has killed several children in the United States and Europe in recent weeks, according to public health authorities, prompting alarm among parents and vulnerable adults.
Strep A is highly contagious and commonly carried by many people in the nose, throat and skin without resulting in serious illness, medical officials and experts say. Most cases are not life-threatening, but can develop into infections known as invasive Group A strep (iGAS), which can be fatal, with the risk greatest among children and the elderly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alerted doctors and public health authorities on Dec. 22 to be on the lookout for cases involving invasive Group A strep infections and to diagnosis and treat them promptly.
Brian Spencer, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the two deaths in that state were in “young children who were not school-aged” from the Denver area.
Spencer said severe group A strep infections can occur as a complication of RSV, flu, covid-19 or other common respiratory illnesses and urged parents to seek help if their child’s respiratory infection worsened. The state had not seen a pediatric death due to group A strep since 2018, he said.
“Early treatment is critical to keeping initial group A strep infections mild and from progressing to the more serious illnesses it can cause,” he said.
The World Health Organization said earlier in December that France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden have also observed increases in invasive group A streptococcus disease, as well as scarlet fever, including an unspecified number of deaths in France and Ireland. Most of those affected are children under age 10.
The WHO said the risk to the general population is low for the time being, describing the rising case counts as “moderate,” and noting that neither antibiotic resistance, nor new variants have been observed. However, the agency said, “[t]he risk will be continuously assessed based on available and shared information.”
Here’s what you need to know.