One week after the UK experienced a series of child deaths from an outbreak of Strep A disease, the United States is experiencing a rise in severe Strep A infections in kids.

In the UK, there have been 19 Strep A-related deaths as officials report an abnormally high level of infections and severe illness. There have also been spikes in other European countries including France, Spain, and Ireland.

“To my knowledge, we’ve never seen a peak like this at this time of year, at least not for decades,” reported microbiologist Shiranee Sriskandan at Imperial College London.

Now, children’s hospitals throughout the U.S. have begun to detect increases in Strep A infections, as they are experiencing higher-than-average numbers of cases this season versus past years.

Early on in the season, U.S. hospitals have already reported an uptick in Strep A cases. In Seattle, a patient had to be put on a ventilator. Phoenix Children’s Hospital has reported seeing “more” patients than normal this time of year. In Colorado, two children have died from the illness. Texas Children’s Hospital is experiencing “four-fold” more cases than usual, and West Virginia University Medicine reports an uptick in cases.

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Experts are suggesting that the U.S. is more susceptible to a Strep A crisis given the national shortage of amoxicillin, an important antibiotic used to treat the illness. The country is also fighting against a tripledemic of flu, Covid-19, and RSV, all of which increase the risk of being infected with Strep A.

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On top of the medication shortage, experts also suggest that the unusual surge in cases both in the U.S. and in Europe could be attributed to the Covid-19 lockdowns weakening children’s immunity against the bacteria that causes Strep A. The weakened immune systems are also likely factors in the increased severity of the flu and RSV, both of which make children more susceptible to Strep A.

Sriskandan weighed in on this theory, suggesting that it is a possibility but clarifying that it is too soon to know for sure. She said, “There are a lot of things that seem to be a bit strange happening after the lockdowns. But it’s hard to say whether that’s causing the surge right now, especially given that we have had surges prior to the pandemic.”

Each year, Strep A infections typically surge in the winter and taper off in the spring. About 1,500 to 2,000 Americans, typically older adults, die annually from Strep A.

This disease is caused by a bacteria called Group A Streptococcus which is spread by breathing in respiratory droplets from infected people through direct contact. After about two to five days symptoms begin to appear and are relatively mild. However, sometimes the bacteria will penetrate the blood and trigger invasive Group A Streptococcal (iGAS).

iGAS is what will lead to life-threatening complications, causing a secondary infection like pneumonia or flesh-eating disease. This seems to be what is appearing at higher levels than usual across the U.S.

Dr. James Versalovic, the pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital, told NBC News that the cases they are seeing are “beyond ordinary strep throat.”

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