Fortune: The WHO just released a stark new warning about strep cases afflicting children around the world and warns countries to 'be vigilant'
By Erin Prater
Europe is seeing a concerning number of severe strep A cases and deaths, the World Health Organization said Thursday, warning other countries to be on the lookout for a similar pattern.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also looking into a “possible increase” in such cases among children, according to the agency’s website.
A higher than usual number of invasive strep A cases—some leading to scarlet fever, and often in children under 10—has already been seen this season in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, the U.K., and Northern Ireland, according to a situation report released Thursday by the WHO.
Strep A season may be off to an early start, the report noted.
RSV and flu are also off to early and severe starts this year, circulating at epidemic levels in the U.S. and abroad. Combined with the COVID pandemic, public health experts are calling the phenomenon a “tripledemic.” But there are more than three pathogens circulating at increased levels this fall. Influenza-like illnesses like rhinovirus and enterovirus, in addition to strep A, are among those being seen more frequently.
Respiratory viruses can lead to a coinfection with strep A, according to the WHO. So, an uptick in such viruses like the one we’re seeing now could lead to an uptick in strep A cases.
Dr. Angela Myers, division of infectious diseases director at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, Mo., told Fortune that her hospital is seeing an increase in invasive strep A infections this year—including a cluster of them over the past month or so.
“It’s unusual to see so many cases in such a short period of time,” she said. “Usually you might see a few invasive cases over the course of winter into early spring. They’re usually not so close together.”
During some bad influenza years—and this year qualifies, with epidemic levels of flu circulating in the U.S.—hospitals sometime see an increase in invasive strep A infections in patients who’ve had the flu, Myers said.
“There may be an association there,” she noted, adding that other factors could be at play. Some of her hospital’s recent invasive strep A patients reported having the flu lately; others did not.
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