What is the strep A bacteria that killed six children in the UK

Six children under the age of ten have died in the UK after invasive infections with streptococcus A, the bacteria in particular that originates from scarlet fever. Streptococcus A can cause either mild or fatal infections, especially when they reach the bloodstream.

British health authorities are urging vigilance. Six children, under the age of ten, died in the United Kingdom after invasive infections with streptococci A, bacteria that mainly originate from scarlet fever, a disease that is usually benign and easily treatable.

However, the cases are increasing in this country. The rate for this year is 2.3 cases per 100,000 children aged 1 to 4, compared with an average of 0.5 from 2017 to 2019, according to the UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA).

The deaths were recorded within seven days of being diagnosed with invasive group A strep infection this season in England. A sixth death has also been recorded in Wales.

Most mild infections

Streptococcus A can cause either mild or fatal infections, especially when they reach the bloodstream, diseases such as tonsillitis, impetigo (skin infection) and scarlet fever.

As the Institut Pasteur reminds us, infections with streptococci A are “frequent”, as are those with streptococci B. These two bacteria only cause symptoms “under certain conditions” or “in persons at risk”.

Group A streptococcus is transmitted “exclusively from man to man,” the institute recalls, especially by inhaling droplets of secretions from the throat or nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Contact with infected skin wounds can also transmit the bacteria.

In most cases, streptococci A cause many mild infections – angina, impetigo – but which can sometimes be “invasive” and severe: bacteremia, necrotizing skin infections, puerperal infections, pleuropneumopathies, meningitis, which can be associated with a syndrome of streptococcal toxic shock .

Hygiene as the most important prevention

However, mortality remains very low: it is estimated at 10% for all pathologies combined. It increases in cases of severe infections: the mortality in cases of streptococcal toxic shock increases to 30% and 20% for meningitis.

To prevent infection, hygiene plays an important role: hands must be washed before meals, before cooking and after coughing or sneezing. In case of infection, the reference treatment remains antibiotics, stresses the Pasteur Institute.

No evidence of the existence of a new strain is currently known to scientists, according to doctors interviewed by the English press. “The lack of contact associated with the Covid-19 pandemic “may have caused a decline in population immunity that could increase infection, particularly among school-age children,” advanced microbiologist Dr Simon Clarke, from the University of Reading.

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