Strep A is causing panic in the United Kingdom, with the disease responsible for several deaths over the past couple of months.
This prompted Victoria’s Department of Health to issue a health warning last week on invasive group A streptococcal disease (iGAS), also commonly known as strep A.
The department said a recent increase in iGAS cases has been observed in Victoria, and the situation is being “closely monitored”.
Exact figures over the number of infections observed weren’t given but the disease has been ripping through the UK, with one expert telling the BBC that Scotland is experiencing the highest number of iGAS cases since 2017.
Two children under 10 were among seven people whose deaths have been linked with strep A in Scotland since October.
In England, 60 people have died within seven days of being diagnosed with iGAS so far this season. Of these, 10 of the deceased were 10 or younger.
The World Health Organisation says that apart from the UK, other European countries have seen cases rise, including France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden.
This comes after the end of COVID lockdowns and most pandemic restrictions saw more people catching out-of-season viruses as their bodies built up antibodies again after months of isolation.
Who’s at risk of iGAS?
Despite the recent local increase in cases, Victoria’s Department of Health said the overall risk of iGAS for the general population is still low.
Transmission occurs through close contact with an infected person, and can be passed through coughs, sneezes, or contact with a wound.
People most at risk of iGAS include:
- household contacts of someone who’s had iGAS in the past 30 days
- people older than 65, or younger than 5 years
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people
- people who inject drugs
- people who are immunocompromised (for example those on steroids or chemotherapy) or have a chronic disease (such as diabetes)
- pregnant and post-partum women.
People who live in overcrowded homes, or homes that do not have hot water or working taps, are also more at risk of infection as iGAS bacteria are more likely to spread.
WHO says iGAS infections, while capable of causing relatively mild illnesses such as tonsillitis, pharyngitis, impetigo, cellulitis and scarlet fever, can be easily treated with antibiotics.
However, iGAS also can cause more life-threatening conditions, including but not limited to pneumonia, streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, rheumatic heart disease, sepsis, and necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease).
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of iGAS vary depending on the site of infection, and are often common symptoms for a number of infections.
People can also carry the iGAS bacteria on skin and in the throat and can spread it without developing symptoms.
Symptoms may include:
- fevers or chills
- shortness of breath and/or chest pain
- headache and/or stiff neck
- nausea and vomiting
- red, warm, painful, and rapidly spreading skin infection which may have pus or ulceration
- abdominal pain, bleeding, or pus discharge from the vagina can occur with maternal sepsis.
In children, signs and symptoms of iGAS in children are similarly non-specific, but can include:
- erythematous sunburn-like rash (scarlet fever rash, which may be subtle or very red)
- cold or mottled limbs
- limb pain
- not wanting to walk
- poor feeding
- abdominal pain
- low urine output
- pleural effusion (build-up of fluid in the space around the lungs)
- throat infection
Victoria’s Department of Health has advised clinicians to be on alert for iGAS symptoms, and to thoroughly evaluate all patients with a clinically compatible illness.
As of Friday, neither the Australian Government or WHO have recommended any restrictions on travel between affected countries.