After COVID, flu and RSV, is a strep outbreak next?
(NEXSTAR) – As the U.S. continues to see high levels of three viral infections – COVID-19, influenza, and RSV – there’s growing concern over a bacteria that can cause serious illness, especially in children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s tracking a “possible increase in invasive group A strep” among children.
At least 94 people in the United Kingdom, including 24 children, have died from complications caused by a strep A infection. “To my knowledge, we’ve never seen a peak like this at this time of year, at least not for decades,” microbiologist Shiranee Sriskandan at Imperial College London told Nature.
France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden have also observed strep A increases over the past few months, the World Health Organization said.
When asked if the U.S. was destined to follow the trend we’re seeing in Europe, Dr. Andrew Pekosz, a virologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said it was too soon to say if we’d see a “large strep A outbreak.” He warned that it could be a problem if we do see a rise in the bacterial infection at the same time we’re contending with a viral “tripledemic.”
“Often times severe disease is caused when you have that combination of a virus infection and a bacterial infection,” Pekosz said. He added that viral infections can sometimes lead to bacterial infections, so the rise in strep A isn’t totally unrelated to the other types of sickness we’re seeing peak.
Secondary bacterial infections, like getting strep A while you’re fighting off the flu or COVID, can also cause more severe disease, Pekosz said.
Strep A infections are particularly dangerous for children, the CDC says. While strep commonly looks and feels like a sore throat, it can sometimes lead to more serious illness like scarlet fever. In rare instances, strep A can also cause necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, both of which are extremely dangerous and can lead to death.
Getting strep now is especially dangerous, as the country is experiencing a shortage of amoxicillin, a liquid antibiotic commonly prescribed to help kids fight strep A. The CDC expects the shortage to “last several months.”
The CDC says concerned parents should contact their pediatrician to get a strep test if they believe their child may have the bacterial infection.
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