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ABC News
ABC News

Health authorities warn of a jump in invasive strep A infections among children

Victorian health authorities and experts are warning of a jump in invasive group A streptococcal infections among children.

While the common infectious bacterial disease mostly triggers mild symptoms like a sore throat, in some people it can cause life-threatening sepsis.

An alert issued last month by Victoria's hospital safety watchdog, Safer Care Victoria, said during 2022, 42 cases of the invasive strep A infections were detected at the Royal Children's Hospital (RCH) and Monash Children's Hospital.

Two Victorian children died with the illness last year.

"Since September, the number of invasive group A streptococcal infections that RCH has identified … has been similar (21 cases) to that seen in an average year (20-25 cases per year," the notice said.

Several countries have recently reported a surge in the number of strep A cases and deaths.

In the UK, local media has reported that at least 30 children had died from invasive infections since mid-September.

Paediatric Infectious Diseases researcher at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute Professor Andrew Steer told ABC Radio Melbourne the signs of the invasive infection were "relatively non-specific."

"They're the signs we worry about in children who might be sick from any type of severe bacterial infection," he said.

"Those are things like being lethargic — a baby that's floppy and looks unwell — a child with limb pain who doesn't want to walk, or a child with fever and a sunburn rash."

Increased socialisation, reduced immunity could be behind surge

He said while there was no need to panic, parents should keep an eye out for symptoms in their children.

Professor Steer said the mild symptom of "strep throat" affected about one in four children each year.

"Strep sore throat is common and the invasive infection is rare, so I think that's really important," he said.

Professor Steer said the rise in case numbers could be caused by a range of factors, including increased socialising after COVID lockdowns, reduced immunity among community members and the possible emergence of a new strain.

The infection is usually treated with antibiotics such as penicillin.

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