PEORIA – In his six years as Peoria County’s coroner, Jamie Harwood has never had a case of strep throat resulting in death until this year.
Since late February, two children in central Illinois have died after being hospitalized with strep: a 4-year-old Peoria girl and a 7-year-old Bloomington girl.
“Both were apparently healthy children who contracted a streptococcal infection. Both were treated appropriately, but unfortunately different people respond differently to antibiotics and to the treatment. Strep infections can increase despite the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics,” Harwood said. “That’s the case with these two girls – their condition kept getting worse, the strep kept spreading. It was a sad situation where their bodies just couldn’t handle the infection.”
What is Invasive Group A Streptococcus?
Illnesses caused by group A strep bacteria, such as strep throat and scarlet fever, are common and generally cause mild illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Serious complications from strep occur when the bacteria migrate to other parts of the body for unknown reasons and become invasive.
Invasive group A strep, or iGAS, is not common, but cases are on the rise in the US. In Illinois, more cases will be reported in 2023 than in the past five years, prompting Dr. Sameer Vohra, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, to highlight the issue on March 10.
“I want to share my concern about the growing number of cases of strep throat in Illinois leading to serious complications. These cases, known as invasive group A strep, result from disease spreading from the throat to blood, muscles and lungs,” he said. begin to show symptoms. These symptoms include sudden onset of sore throat, pain on swallowing and fever. Early detection is critical as strep can be diagnosed with a simple test and treated with antibiotics.”
Cases are rising in central Illinois
In the Peoria area, strep cases are unusually high, although exact statistics are not available because strep is not a notifiable disease, said Diana Scott, communications manager for the Peoria City/County Department of Health. OSF HealthCare pediatrician Dr. Kristine Ray said she’s diagnosed more strep throat this year than in the nine years she’s been practicing medicine.
“In the clinic, we’re definitely seeing an increase in strep infections, with strep throat being the most common, and I know all of my colleagues here in this office, in the city and across the state are seeing an increase in strep,” she said. “When we were sheltering in place (during the pandemic), we could go months without a positive strep test, and yesterday I think I had five or six positive strep tests in children.”
How is strep contracted and treated?
Strep usually infects children ages 5 to 15, although adults are also at risk if they have frequent contact with children, the CDC said. Group A streptococcus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, direct contact, or by drinking from the same glass or eating from the same plate as an infected person.
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While most cases of strep throat don’t progress to iGAS, strep is something doctors take very seriously — they always prescribe antibiotics, Ray said.
“There are a lot of things that we will watch out for, like an ear infection. … Often we can look at that for a few days and then maybe it will get better. But we always treat strep, and the reason is to avoid complications from the bacteria down the line, with the heart and kidneys, things like that. If left untreated, most people get better from that acute infection, but it must be treated to avoid complications.
No one knows why some children switch to iGAS. One thing doctors know is that if an infection is still present, the body will have more difficulty overcoming strep. For that reason, Vohra urged parents to make sure children are up to date on their vaccines.
“Having the flu or chickenpox can increase the risk of invasive group A strep,” he said.
When to the doctor
Symptoms that parents should watch out for include sore throat, fever, abdominal pain and vomiting, and rash. Coughing and congestion aren’t typical symptoms of strep, but more likely a virus that doesn’t need immediate attention, Ray said.
“If you know your child and this is how they act when they have a cold, it’s okay to keep them home and watch them for a few days,” she said. “If there are hydration issues, high fever, fever for more than three days, it’s worth calling. If there are any foreign skin things, bring them in because we can look at something and know, just by its appearance, whether it looks like strep or not.
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Because kids can’t always explain how they’re feeling, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and call the doctor, Ray said.
“If you’re ever unsure or concerned in pediatrics, we’d rather see them than miss out.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or email@example.com. Follow her at Facebook.com/leslie.renken.