At least five countries in Europe are reporting an increase in invasive group A Streptococcus (iGAS) disease and scarlet fever, according to a disease outbreak update today from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO said that as of Dec 8, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have been observing an increase in iGAS cases stretching back to the spring in the Netherlands and summer months in the United Kingdom. Many of the cases have been in children under 10 years of age, and some have been fatal, with 13 deaths reported in England within 7 days of diagnosis.
Group A Streptococcus is most known for causing acute pharyngitis, also known as strep throat, but can also cause scarlet fever and other, more serious and life-threatening invasive infections. Transmission occurs through close contact with an infected person and is passed on through coughs, sneezes, or contact with a wound.
In all five countries, the number of iGAS cases reported in recent months has been higher than that observed during the same period in previous years.
Scarlet fever spikes in UK
Only France and the United Kingdom have reported scarlet fever cases, with the latter reporting 4,622 scarlet fever notifications from weeks 37 to 46 of the current season—more than three times the average number reported for the previous 5 years. UK health officials say several outbreaks have occurred in nurseries and schools.
The WHO says the increase could reflect an early group A Strep season coinciding with an increase in the circulation of other respiratory viruses. In response, enhanced surveillance has been implemented in the countries reporting iGAS increases, along with public health messages for the public and clinicians.
The WHO currently assesses the risk for the general population as low, with no observed increases in antibiotic resistance but says it will continue to closely monitor the epidemiologic situation throughout the European region.