MDH warns of rise in severe strep infections

The Minnesota Department of Health is warning hospitals about a rise in severe strep infections.

Invasive group A streptococcal disease can cause serious, potentially life-threatening complications.

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

Two children recently died in Colorado.

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

MDH reports at least 46 cases in Minnesota in November.

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

Group A Streptococcus is a bacteria that commonly causes strep throat, but invasive group A strep can lead to more serious issues.

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

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

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

Dr. Maroushek said she has not personally seen any cases of invasive group A strep so far this season.

She noted a rise in cases could be tied to the rise in respiratory illnesses overall, as people who have recently been sick may be more susceptible to the bacterial infection.

“Say you have a really bad, raw sore throat that’s really inflamed from influenza or from COVID, then those bacteria can get into the 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 more at risk for those things, especially if they’ve already been weakened by some of these respiratory viruses that are going around.”

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

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

If you experience symptoms, see a doctor right away for treatment.

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

MDH told 5 EYEWITNESS News 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 some pre-pandemic years. 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 cases in Minnesota right now.

“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 watch closely and see if we can better understand why this is occurring,” Como-Sabetti said.