Evansville hospitals seeing increase in Group A strep infections

Evansville hospitals seeing increase in Group A strep infections
Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 12:30 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - Officials with Deaconess say they are seeing a sudden increase in invasive group A strep infections.

They are making the public aware so they know the signs and symptoms. They say you should not delay care.

“So, most people are familiar with strep throat, and this is not your typical strep throat that we’re talking about,” says Dr. Heidi Dunniway, the Regional Chief Medical Officer of Ascension St. Vincent in Evansville.

Group A strep, or Invasive Group A Streptococcal Infections, can lead to some serious and severe complications.

“Same family of bacteria,” explains Dunniway, “but these are much more serious infections, and can either start with the throat infection or with a skin infection.”

Joining Dr. Dunniway was the Chief Medical Officer of Deaconess Health System, Dr. JoAnn Wood, as well as Dr. Julie Wohrley, a Pediatric Infectious Diseases Specialist.

All three women are familiar with the infection, and have seen what it can do to those who don’t get medical attention fast enough.

“When you have strep throat, one of the bad things that can happen is you’ll develop an abscess in your tonsils, but we’re seeing this bacteria just invade the soft tissues of the neck, and cause it to die, which is very, very serious and life-threatening,” says Wood.

She’s talking about Necrotizing Fasciitis, a rare flesh-eating disease.

According to a release from Deaconess, this week alone they’ve had several patients requiring surgery for that specific infection, and say this type of strep can get rapidly worse in hours.

“If I have a sore throat, particularly if I don’t have runny nose or cough or congestion, just a sore throat or a headache, fever,” says Wood, “those are the three most common symptoms I’m used to, sometimes you might see a rash with it, I need to be seen. I need to see a doctor, or a nurse practitioner, or a P.A., and I need to have a strep test.”

Deaconess officials say to keep an eye on any new sore throats, including those that come with a fever or neck pain, as well as any cuts or wounds that are showing signs of infection.

The doctors noted that the age range of those impacted is broad, and some of the patients are young, otherwise healthy adults.

So, if something feels wrong, they urge you to get checked out.

“It’s better to go to urgent care, or your pediatrician, or your family practitioner, and have it checked out,” says Wohrley.

Here are some things health officials want everyone to know:

If someone has these symptoms of Group A strep:

- a new sore throat, OR

- a sore throat that includes a fever, OR

- a sore throat that includes neck pain, OR

- a cut or wound that is showing signs of infection

they should seek medical attention at their doctor’s office, or at an urgent care facility.

If someone has the symptoms above, and is also high risk, they should seek medical care quickly at a doctor’s office, urgent care, or at the emergency department if other offices are closed.

If someone has had the symptoms above, and then are suddenly also experiencing chills, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, they should seek medical care quickly, as these are symptoms of severe Group A strep infections.

Make sure everyone in the household is up to date with flu and chickenpox vaccines, since getting these infections can increase risk for getting an invasive group A streptococcal infection

Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria can cause a range of illnesses, from pharyngitis (i.e., strep throat) and skin and soft tissue infections to uncommon but severe diseases such as:

- sepsis

- streptococcal toxic shock syndrome

- necrotizing fasciitis

People with concurrent or preceding viral infections, such as influenza and varicella (chickenpox), are at increased risk for infection.

Other groups at higher risk for infection/related complications include:

- People aged 65 years or older, or age less than 1 year

- Residents of long-term care facilities

- People with wounds, skin disease, trauma, burns and surgery - recent skin disruption

- People with medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, immunosuppression/immunodeficiency, chronic kidney, cardiac, or respiratory disease

- Current/recent varicella zoster infection (chickenpox)

- Current/recent influenza (flu) illness

- People who inject drugs

- People who are experiencing homelessness

- American Indian and Alaska Native populations

These bacteria are spread by person-to-person transmission, such as through respiratory droplets when someone talks, coughs or sneezes. However, it can also occur due to direct contact with saliva or nasal secretions of infected people, or by contact with infected wounds or sores on the skin.

According to Deaconess’ release, the best way to prevent Group A strep from spreading is by washing hands often and practicing good hand hygiene.