Health officials warn B.C. continues to combat a high rate of infections from invasive group A streptococcal bacteria that have contributed to the deaths of four young kids over the past month.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control reported Thursday there were 60 reported cases of the invasive bacterial infections last year in people under 20, three times as many as in 2022.
Alarmingly, that includes four deaths in children under 10 since mid-December in which strep A was a factor alongside other viral respiratory illness — two involving the flu and two the human metapneumovirus.
The agency issued a bulletin in December about the high level of strep A infections circulating in the province.
It followed a steady rise in the infections in B.C. to 586 cases in 2023 or 10.8 cases per 100,000, up from 303 cases in 2016 or 6.2 per 100,000 people. Similar increases are being seen across Canada and in other parts of the world.
“Invasive bacterial infections tend to be more common during winter months, in association with viral respiratory infections,” said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. “Though deaths associated with (invasive strep A) infection in children are rare, severe outcomes have been reported this respiratory season.”
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Typically, group A causes mild illness, but infections can be more dangerous when it invades the lungs or blood or spreads along the tissue surrounding a muscle.
Sometimes this happens after a viral respiration infection, and can cause pneumonia or sepsis, including life-threatening conditions such as toxic shock syndrome and necrotizing fasciitis. Those are much riskier for both young and old patients, and those with chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, heart or lung disease and people who take steroidal medications.
While rare, the Centre for Disease Control and B.C. Children’s Hospital are advising families to watch for these symptoms:
• A fever for than five days in a child of any age.
• Fever with either a fine red rash (skin texture like sandpaper), full body rash like a sunburn and red, swollen tongue.
• A fever in a child under three months, a child with immune system issues or complex chronic health issues.
• A child struggling to breathe, for example when the chest appears to sink in around the breastbone on each breath, possibly with grunting or head-bobbing on each breath in a young infant;
• Pale skin and whitish or blue lips.
• A child who is very sleepy or having difficulty waking up.
• A child becoming very sick quickly.
If a child has any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical care or go to the nearest emergency department or urgent and primary care centre.
There is no vaccine for group A streptococcal infections, so theCentre for Disease Control advises standard ways to prevent illness such as regular handwashing, cleaning wounds and watching for signs of infection, getting immunized for influenza and the update COVID-19 vaccines, and staying home when sick.
To learn more about invasive group A strep infections, contact a health provider or call HealthLink B.C. at 811 for free advice.
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