MDH Warns of Rise in Serious Strep Infections

The Minnesota Department of Health is warning hospitals about an increase in serious strep infections.

Invasive group A strep disease can cause serious and life-threatening complications.

“You know, it’s a worrying pathogen. It’s something we watch very closely,” said Kathy Como-Sabetti, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health. “We felt it was important to let doctors know that we are seeing these cases in Minnesota.”

Two children recently died in Colorado.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also monitoring an increase in cases in several states.

MDH reports at least 46 cases in Minnesota in November.

“What is concerning is that, over the last month, our usual number has doubled from where it tends to be,” Como-Sabetti said.

Group A strep is a bacterium that commonly causes strep throat, but invasive group A strep can cause more serious problems.

“It can cause many different symptoms depending on where the bacteria infects. People get things like necrotizing fasciitis, which is a flesh-eating bacterium. That’s where you talk about losing limbs. Septic shock is the other thing we worry about with group A strep and that’s where the blood pressure drops and we have multi-organ failure. It can also be fatal in some cases,” Como-Sabetti said.

Twin Cities hospitals told 5 EYEWITNESS News they are monitoring the situation.

“I know there have been cases of invasive strep in the Twin Cities,” said Dr. Stacene Maroushek, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Hennepin Healthcare.

Dr. Maroushek said she hasn’t personally seen any cases of invasive group A strep so far this season.

He noted that an increase in cases could be related to the rise in respiratory illnesses in general, as people who have recently been ill may be more susceptible to bacterial infection.

“Let’s say you have a very bad, raw sore throat that’s really inflamed from the flu or from COVID, then those bacteria can get into your bloodstream or into your lungs or deeper into your throat,” Maroushek explained. “Children and the elderly have weaker immune systems, so they tend to be at higher risk for those things, especially if they’ve already been weakened by some of these circulating respiratory viruses.”

She urges people to look for warning signs, such as:

– a fever that goes away but then returns a few days later.
– excessive weakness or dizziness.
– and painful, bright red skin.

If you experience symptoms, see a doctor immediately for treatment.

“It’s very easy to kill it with antibiotics, it’s just recognizing it and treating it urgently and appropriately,” Maroushek said.

MDH told 5 EYEWITNESS News that there have been 272 cases of invasive group A strep in Minnesota so far this year, compared to 212 in all of last year.

Still, the numbers are not currently as high as they were in some years prior to the pandemic. The state saw 359 cases in 2017, 367 in 2018 and 326 in 2019, according to MDH.

A spokesperson said there is no obvious link between the cases in Minnesota at this time.

“We are concerned, so we are watching it closely. We have experienced this in the past but, as we have in the past, we want to take a closer look and see if we can better understand why this is happening,” Como-Sabetti said.

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