· By Tiny Hearts
Group A Streptococcus - How to recognise the signs and keep your family safe
What is Group A Streptococcus?
Group A Streptococcus (Strep A) is a bacteria that usually causes mild diseases like sore throats and school sores. For the most part, it is a common infection that shows as a mild illness that many people recover from without needing to see a doctor. However, the cases where it becomes more serious and life-threatening are when the bacteria invade the body and enter areas such as the blood. This is called invasive Group A streptococcal disease
How common is it? How many people have been infected with it?
According to data from the Department of Health's National Communicable Disease Surveillance Dashboard, there were 1163 cases of iGAS in Australia in 2022. A study from the Murdoch Children't Research Institute found the number of children admitted to hospital with strep A rose from 23 in 2020 to 107 in 2022. In 2022, Victoria had 42 cases of invasive strep A infections at RCH and Monash Children's hospital. Two Victorian children died from the illness last year.
As of January 13, there have been 52 infections recorded in 2023. The WHO has documented a rise in the number of invasive strep A cases in a number of countries around the world. There have been recent headlines in the UK where there was an increase in the number of infections, causing tens of thousands of cases of scarlet fever and the deaths of 25 children.
What is causing the spike in numbers?
There are a few theories on the cause of the spike in numbers. One of these is that because of the lockdowns, people were all insulated from infectious bugs, including strep A. This means that fewer people were getting low-grade infections of the strep A bacteria, and this reduced people's immunity to it. Another theory is that the rise in other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, means more people are getting sick. Viruses can cause damage to the lining of the throat, which opens up the opportunity for the invasion of bacteria into the bloodstream.
What are the symptoms of Group A Streptococcus?
The symptoms your child shows will depend on where the infection develops in the body.
Symptoms of strep throat:
- pain when swallowing
- muscle aches and pains
Symptoms of scarlet fever
- red, sore throat
- swollen glands
- red blotches on the skin
Symptoms of Impetigo
- red sores on the skin that form blisters
- blisters pop and leave a moist area with a yellow/brown crust at the edge
Symptoms of cellulitis
- skin is red, painful and swollen
- skin feels tight and warm to touch
Signs the bacteria is progressing to invasive Group A Streptococcus
So if strep A is a common illness that can self-resolve, how can you tell when your little one has the more sinister Invasive Group A Streptococcus? Look for the same red flags and signs of any critically unwell child. If you see any of these things, take your child to the hospital.
Signs of invasive strep A:
- Shortness of breath
- Stiff neck
- Red skin infection
- Red sunburn-like rash
- Limb pain and reluctance to walk
- Abdominal pain
- Decreased urine output
Why Invasive Group A Streptococcus is so serious
Invasive Group A streptococcus is when the bacteria infect a normally sterile part of the body such as the blood, meninges, joint spaces, heart muscles and bone. When these areas are infected, it can cause Group A streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS). This can result in disseminated intravascular coagulation, which is when the blood clots inside the blood vessels when it isn't supposed to. This can cause blockages in vessels leading to vital organs, and at the same time, puts the patient at risk of bleeding out. Another rare but serious complication of Group A strep is Necrotising fasciitis, also called the "flesh-eating disease". This is a bacterial infection that can spread rapidly and lead to sepsis, organ failure and death. This happens when the bacteria invade the skin, multiply quickly and releases toxins that cause blood to clot in the blood vessels. This results in the death of the tissues in the skin and muscle.
How is it treated?
The earlier treatment can be commenced, the better. That is why recognising signs of a critically unwell child and being able to tell it's more than just a normal bacterial infection is so key. Strep A is treated with antibiotics.
How do kids catch it?/How is it spread?
The bacteria is spread through large respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing) or direct contact with infected people.
How can I prevent it?
The best way to protect yourself from Group A Strep is similar to any other bacteria, practice good hygiene and wash your hands often. Avoid contact with people who are infected with the bacteria. Get treatment for skin infections promptly to prevent them from spreading.
Is there a vaccine available for it?
Currently, teams are working on developing a preventative vaccine, but at the moment, there are no current vaccines available.
Would you know what to do in a first aid emergency with your little one?
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