Severe Strep Infections Rebound After Pandemic Lull

2 min read

June 21, 2023 – Severe infections caused by group A streptococcus bacteria are on the rise in countries around the world, including the United States, according to new data from the CDC.

Group A strep bacteria usually cause mild illnesses like strep throat and scarlet fever. But they can also cause more severe diseases, like the flesh-eating disease necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, known as invasive group A strep infections. 

These infections fell by 25% during the COVID-19 pandemic and were especially low in children. The number of milder infections also dropped. But in 2022, severe infections came roaring back, particularly in children.

Infections increased earlier in the winter/spring season – from September to November – than seen in a typical year and rose to higher than pre-pandemic levels in many parts of the country, such as Colorado and Minnesota.

Now in 2023, invasive infections are high in children in some parts of the country, even after respiratory viruses like the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) decreased in those areas. Some parts of the country also saw high rates of invasive infections in older adults. 

Less severe strep A infections in children have returned to levels similar to or higher than those seen in pre-pandemic years.

A similar post-pandemic resurgence in invasive infections has also been seen in other countries, including Canada, the U.K., France, and Denmark.

While strep A is a very common bacteria that causes only mild or no symptoms in most people, severe infections are usually quite rare. They tend to affect the most vulnerable people: those who have another virus, multiple chronic conditions, or an open wound.

People should watch for fever, headaches, or confusion during a strep infection, which all might signal a more severe illness.