An unseasonal spike in severe strep A cases in Australia has prompted calls for a vaccine to prevent the deadly infection.
The number of children admitted to hospital with strep A rose from 23 in 2020 to 107 in 2022, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute found.
The children experienced symptoms including toxic shock syndrome and aggressive skin infections.
The strep A spike in Australia mirrored a similar rise in the northern hemisphere, despite the differences in seasons.
‘This increase is likely due to a combination of environmental factors and viruses in circulation,’ the institute’s Dr Yara-Natalie Abo said.
‘More research is needed into whether new strains might be responsible.’
Strep A causes sore throats, scarlet fever and skin sores, affecting about 750 million people globally and killing 500,000 a year.
The bacteria disproportionately affects young children, the elderly, pregnant women and Indigenous Australians.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent strep A but researchers are working towards an effective and accessible one.
‘We hope this research will accelerate the development of a vaccine and move things forward to bigger field trials,’ the institute’s Professor Andrew Steer said.
‘A vaccine for strep A 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 DOES STREP A SPREAD?
What is Strep A?
Group A Streptococcus (Group A Strep or Strep A) bacteria 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 deadly diseases.
They include the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.
While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, sometimes the bacteria cause an illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease.
What is invasive Group A Streptococcal disease?
Invasive Group A Strep disease is sometimes a life-threatening infection in which the bacteria have invaded parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscle or lungs.
Two of the most severe, but rare, forms of invasive disease are necrotising fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.
Necrotising fasciitis is also known as the ‘flesh-eating disease’ and can occur if a wound gets infected.
Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome is a rapidly progressing infection causing low blood pressure/shock and damage to organs such as the kidneys, liver and lungs.
This type of toxic shock has a high death rate.