Hospitals Report Rise in Severe Strep a Cases: Here’s What to Know

The CDC has issued a warning after several US children’s hospitals reported an increase in the potentially life-threatening, but generally rare, infection.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Assistant Editor
Published December 15, 2022
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As we close out the year, the holiday spirit isn’t the only thing in the air. Respiratory infections like RSV and the flu are spreading rapidly, sending more kids home from school and daycare, and overwhelming children’s hospitals. On top of it all, a new “trending” infection has just entered the chat—invasive group A strep.

How do we know cases are rising? Why are they increasing?

Last week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a statement saying that the organization would be looking into a possible increase in invasive group A strep (iGAS) infections among children in the United States. The inquiry comes after several children’s hospitals around the nation have reported an increase in iGAS cases.

Dr. James Versalovic, the pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston —one of the largest pediatric hospitals in the US—told NBC News that he has seen “a greater than fourfold increase” in potentially invasive infections in the last two months compared to the same period last year. While this may sound alarming, cases while serious are somewhat rare, with Texas Children’s reporting around 60 cases over October and November.

The CDC believes the increase in cases may be related to the rollback of Covid mitigation measures and the current surge of respiratory viruses like flu, Covid and RSV. “Oftentimes, kids who develop severe group A strep infections will start out with having a viral respiratory infection,” Dr. Sam Dominguez, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, told NBC.

What does invasive group A strep look like?

According to the CDC, bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep) can cause many different infections. These infections range from minor strep illnesses you’ve likely run across to more serious and life-threatening diseases.

Invasive group A strep is a far cry from your everyday strep and occurs when bacteria spread to areas of the body that are normally germ-free, such as the bloodstream. This kind of infection can lead to trigger serious problems like lower airway infections such as pneumonia or empyema; skin infections like cellulitis or necrotizing fasciitis; or Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, an immune reaction that can lead to organ failure.

What should I do to protect my child?

The CDC recommends that parents take the following three routes of action and prevention.

  • Learn about and look out for the symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome—two of the more serious and life-threatening results of iGAS.
  • Seek medical care quickly if you believe your child may have one of these infections.
  • Make sure your children are up to date with flu and chickenpox vaccines, since contracting these infections can increase risk of getting an iGAS infection.

If you notice your child is unusually tired or exhibiting symptoms that are longer or more severe than the usual cold or flu symptoms, don’t hesitate to consult your pediatrician. Many offices today have help and sick lines where you can chat with a nurse or medical provider about your child’s symptoms so you can decide if a visit is needed.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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