Wisconsin hospital reports increase in severe strep infections among kids

The U.K. has reported 15 deaths in children while Colorado has had 2.
Posted at 9:45 AM, Dec 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-19 10:45:49-05

There is growing concern around the rising number of invasive group A strep infections in kids, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitors cases across the country.

The U.K. has reported 15 deaths in children while Colorado has had 2.

"A kind of routine respiratory viral illness can very quickly become much more serious when a bacterial component jumps in. So people do need to be concerned about this," said Dr. James Conway, pediatric infectious disease physician at UW Health Kids in Madison.

Invasive group A strep can infect skin, soft tissue, or the bloodstream. The invasive infections kill 1,500 to 2,300 Americans each year, according to the CDC.

Dr. Conway noted they are seeing more kids come in with an invasive form of group A strep often following a recent hit by a respiratory virus.

"Most of the kids' parents were wise enough to realize there was something going on that didn't seem quite right, got the kids in quickly. A couple of them were in the hospital for a couple of weeks before things were stable enough to be able to go home, so these are not something that we take lightly," Dr. Conway said.

Doctors advised when a kid has a respiratory illness to look out for very high fevers, difficulty breathing, or severe cough. If your child appears sicker than expected for a virus call the doctor.

Children's Wisconsin has seen 9 cases of invasive group A strep so far in 2022. In 2021, they reported 4 cases and in 2020 they had 5. Pre-pandemic Children's Wisconsin had 7 in 2019 and 9 in 2018.

As the sick season hit harder and sooner this year, schools are doing what they can to keep up.

Shorewood School District nurse Kelly Barlow-Eichman said they expected more sick calls this time of year and that every day is different.

"Sometimes we're seeing 10 to maybe 20 calls which is fairly average for about this time, and then other days receiving ramp up closer to 50 in a day," Barlow-Eichman said.

In response to the trends, the district continues to monitor sick calls to see what is going around. It is also increasing communications with families.

"To say hey we know it might not be COVID, but if your child has some kind of respiratory illness it's not a bad idea to send them with a mask on to reduce the spread. We know masks help with all respiratory illnesses, not just COVID," Barlow-Eichman said.

There is no vaccine against group A strep, so early recognition of symptoms is important.

Dr. Conway stressed that getting kids up to date with their flu and COVID shots can prevent viral illnesses and protect against bacterial infections.