An unusual rise in severe cases of strep A in Australia has prompted calls for a vaccine to prevent the deadly infection.
The number of children admitted to the hospital with strep A rose from 23 in 2020 to 107 in 2022, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has found.
The children experienced symptoms including toxic shock syndrome and aggressive skin infections.
The increase in strep A in Australia mirrored a similar increase in the northern hemisphere, despite seasonal differences.
“This increase is probably due to a combination of environmental factors and circulating viruses,” said Dr. Yara-Natalie Abo from the institute.
“More research is needed to determine if new strains could be responsible.”
Streptococcus A causes sore throats, scarlet fever and skin sores, affects an estimated 750 million people worldwide and kills 500,000 a year.
The bacterium disproportionately affects young children, the elderly, pregnant women and indigenous Australians.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent strep A, but researchers are working to find one that is effective and affordable.
“We hope this research will accelerate the development of a vaccine and move towards larger field trials,” said Professor Andrew Steer from the institute.
“A strep A vaccine will save hundreds of thousands of lives every year and prevent millions of infections that send children and adults to the hospital or doctor.”
How is strep spread?
What is strep A?
Group A streptococcus bacteria (group A strep or A strep) can cause many different infections.
The bacteria are commonly found in the throat and on the skin, and some people have no symptoms.
Infections caused by strep A range from minor illnesses to serious and fatal illnesses.
They include skin infection, impetigo, scarlet fever, and strep throat.
While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, sometimes the bacteria cause a disease called invasive group A strep disease.
What is invasive group A strep disease?
Invasive group A strep disease is a sometimes life-threatening infection in which the bacteria have invaded parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscles, or lungs.
Two of the most serious, but rare, forms of invasive disease are necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.
Necrotizing fasciitis is also known as the “flesh-eating disease” and can occur if a wound becomes infected.
Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome is a rapidly progressing infection that causes low blood pressure/shock and damage to organs such as the kidneys, liver, and lungs.
This type of toxic shock has a high mortality rate.