Australian health authorities have issued a warning after hundreds of cases of the potentially fatal disease Strep A have been reported nationwide. Over 500 official cases of the invasive streptococcal disease in 2023, compared to around 1,200 cases last year. At least two children died last year after contracting the disease. Invasive group A strep became a notifiable disease in New South Wales last September due to its potential danger to human health. Health officials have urged the public to be aware of the symptoms of Strep A, including sore throat, fever, and skin rash. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to preventing serious complications.
In this article, we will look closer at Strep A, its causes, symptoms, and risks, and provide information on how to stay safe.
What is Strep A?
Streptococcus pyogenes, commonly known as Strep A, is a type of bacteria that can cause many human infections. It is a gram-positive bacterium that grows in chains and is found mainly in the respiratory tract and on the skin. Strep A is one of the most common bacterial causes of pharyngitis, commonly known as strep throat.
Ways of Transmission
Strep A is highly contagious and can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person or by contacting contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs, keyboards, or utensils. Strep A can also be spread through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Strep A infections can result in various symptoms depending on the infection type. Common symptoms of strep throat include:
- sore throat
- swollen lymph nodes
- difficulty swallowing
It can also cause skin infections, such as impetigo, and invasive infections, such as necrotising fasciitis, which can be life-threatening. Other symptoms of invasive Strep A infections include fever, chills, and severe pain and swelling in the affected area.
Strep A Cases in Australia
Last September, the invasive form of Group A strep infection was included in New South Wales’s list of notifiable diseases, owing to its potential danger to human health. As of April 5, there have been 301 reported disease cases in the state. In Victoria, at least 140 individuals have fallen ill with the invasive strep strain this year. According to infectious disease specialist Jeremy Carr, Monash Children’s Hospital has cared for 25 cases in the past six months. In Queensland, over 90 people, primarily children, have been diagnosed with an acute form of Strep A this year. Over 50 invasive Group A streptococcus cases have been registered in Western Australia, with 25 cases documented in January alone.
Who is at the Highest Risk?
Strep A can affect anyone, but some groups are more susceptible to contracting it than others. 9NEWS reports that while anyone can develop a Strep A infection, some groups are more vulnerable to contracting it than others:
- children under five
- older people
- those with poor access to hygiene facilities
- people who live or spend time in crowded conditions
- those with weak immune systems, e.g. those undergoing chemotherapy, HIV patients
- chronic illnesses are at higher risk
Additionally, those who live in crowded environments, such as dormitories or military barracks, are at higher risk.
Identifying vulnerable populations
Identifying vulnerable populations at higher risk of contracting Strep A is vital to develop targeted prevention and control measures. By addressing the underlying social determinants of health, such as poverty, overcrowding, and lack of access to healthcare, we can reduce the incidence of Strep A infections in vulnerable populations.
Due to social determinants, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are more likely to develop Strep A infections. The high incidence of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) among indigenous populations in Australia has been linked to repeated Strep A infections.
How to Keep Strep A at Bay
Prevention and treatment are essential in managing and controlling the spread of Strep A infections.
Practising Good Hygiene
One of the best ways to prevent the spread of Strep A is by practising good hygiene. This includes washing your hands regularly, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding sharing personal items like towels and utensils.
Importance of Early Diagnosis and Treatment
Early diagnosis and treatment of Strep A infections are crucial in preventing serious complications. If you suspect you may have contracted Strep A, seek medical attention immediately.
Antibiotics and Other Treatments Available
Antibiotics are the primary treatment for Strep A infections. Other treatments may include pain relief medications and medications to reduce inflammation. In severe cases, hospitalisation may be necessary.
Emergencies Associated with Strep A
Strep A infections can quickly escalate when left untreated and cause severe complications. These emergencies can include:
- toxic shock syndrome
These conditions’ symptoms are fever, chills, difficulty breathing, and confusion.
In severe cases, organ failure and death can occur. It is important to seek medical attention immediately if you or anyone you know is experiencing these symptoms. Quick diagnosis and treatment can prevent severe complications and even save lives.
Strep A is a serious bacterial infection with severe consequences if left untreated. With the recent increase in cases of the invasive form of Strep A in Australia, especially among children, it is crucial to be aware of the symptoms and take steps to prevent the spread of the infection. As a precautionary measure, CPR First Aid Australia RTO NO. 21903 offers CPR and first aid courses to prepare individuals for emergencies. By taking the necessary precautions and being informed, we can all play a part in preventing the spread of Strep A and ensuring the health and safety of our communities.