Group A strep throat infections are on the rise, according to a new report from the CDC.
"We know that during the pandemic year 2020 and 2021, it was the year that we saw the least amount of strep, so during that time we had mitigation. People were masking," said Dr. Bessey Geevarghese, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases at Northwestern Medicine and Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago.
As people go maskless, more Americans are prone to catching the bacterial infections that cause scratchy, sore throats. It’s common for adults and children to get Group A strep with symptoms that include fever, sore throat and pain when swallowing.
But this year, Invasive Group A, the more severe strain, appears higher in children and adults over 65.
"The findings that we would sort of look out for are anybody that seems sick out of proportion to what you would expect them to be once they're on antibiotics: Altered mental status, increased difficulty breathing, not responding to antibiotics, persistent fever. Those are some of the signs that we would be worried about," Geevarghese said.
In cases of severe invasive strep, patients require hospital care. Infection can spread from the throat to other parts of the body and lead to toxic shock syndrome. In rare cases, strep can even cause death.
"We're seeing a lot of Group A strep presenting with pleural effusion ... requiring chest tubes, or we're seeing kids presenting with cellulitis or muscle abscesses that need a surgical drainage and even more severe head and neck infections," Geevarghese said.
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Children are especially vulnerable right now because the antibiotic Amoxicillin — in the pink bubblegum version that makes it easier to swallow — is in short supply nationwide. But doctors like Geevarghese aren't worried. She said there are alternative antibiotics that work.
"Most cases of strep are treatable," she said. "They present as pharyngitis. I think it's more in the sense of being aware of when your child is not getting better as expected, or if they're on antibiotics and two or three days in there seem to be getting worse or their symptoms are progressing. Those are things to be aware of," Geevarghese said.
There are easy precautions if someone in your house has strep, with Geevarghese pointing to the three to five-day incubation period.
"I think if a family member has strep and there's other siblings in the house, definitely avoid sneezing, sharing utensils, sharing cups, straws, changing toothbrushes. So it's definitely passed by secretions and respiratory droplets," she said.
Doctors are expecting numbers to go down once the school year ends and kids aren't stuck together indoors. Geevarghese said strep typically peaks from December to April and that there will hopefully be a decrease in rates of both respiratory and strep infections coming in May and June.
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