Israel is on alert for Strep A, which has killed 151 people in the UK since September

Israel is on alert for Strep A, which has killed 151 people in the UK since September

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Israel’s health ministry has expressed concern about the spread of strep A, a bacteria that recently caused 29 children died in the United Kingdom.

Streptococci, commonly known as strep, usually cause a sore throat and flu-like symptoms. But in rare cases the bacteria it becomes invasive, grows in the blood or other organs, and can cause a number of conditions.

These include meningitis, scarlet fever, toxic shock syndrome and a flesh-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis. They can cause serious illness and even death.

Scientists categorize different “groups” of strep bacteria – which are indistinguishable to the people who become infected – and the focus of current concern is group A, formally known as streptococcus pyogenes.

World Health Organization recently announced that there is an increase in the incidence of invasive infections caused by Streptococcus A, but did not shed light on why this occurs. His announcement was based on reports from at least five countries: the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Australia reported two child deaths from the bacteria on Friday. And in the UK, including child and adult mortality, there have already been 151 deaths from strep since September, and the season is believed to be still in full swing. The number of child deaths in the UK, 29, has already surpassed the number from the last intense season in 2017 and 2018.

Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria, also known as Streptococcus A (Dr_Microbe via iStock by Getty Images)

The Department of Health’s epidemiological team wrote to doctors on Monday, saying it was monitoring Strep A and “considered it appropriate to raise the awareness of medical teams on the subject”.

It said strains of Strep A that were rare in the past are increasing, causing an “increase in invasive morbidity.” Strep A cases were noted to have declined at the height of the pandemic, but increased in the second half of 2021 and were high in 2022.

Israel is on alert for Strep A, which has killed 151 people in the UK since September

Epidemiologist Hagai Levin (courtesy of Hebrew University)

Prof. Hagai Levin, an epidemiologist at the Hebrew University and chairman of the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians, told The Times of Israel that parents should not panic, but should be vigilant.

“This is certainly another health condition that parents need to watch out for, along with COVID-19, influenza, RSV and others,” he said.

Medical authorities should focus on “monitoring, surveillance and raising awareness,” he said, noting that when caught early, invasive strep A can be effectively treated with antibiotics.

The World Health Organization said in its recent Strep A announcement that there have been “no reports of increased antibiotic resistance,” leaving doctors optimistic about the ability of antibiotics to suppress infections.

Strep A bacteria is spread through sneezing, coughing and skin contact. The people most at risk of the infection becoming invasive are the elderly and anyone with a weakened immune system, such as those with long-term health problems.

Levin said parents should seek medical advice if their child is unresponsive, has a fever or is exhibiting unusual behavior. He acknowledged that it can be difficult for parents to know if their child is seriously ill, but said they should “trust their instincts” and see a doctor if their behavior is unusual.

The Department of Health said in its letter that “an invasive infection is defined when there is penetration of the bacteria into sterile sites such as the circulatory system, lungs and soft tissues such as muscle and fat.” He emphasizes that “high vigilance can contribute to rapid diagnosis.”

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