B.C. warns of rise in strep throat infections, particularly among kids

B.C. warns of rise in strep throat infections, particularly among kids
Saanich Peninsula Hospital is shown in this file photo.

The BC Centre for Disease Control and BC Children’s Hospital are warning of a rise in group A streptococcal (iGAS) infections, which can cause things like strep throat or even more severe illnesses.

As of Friday, there have been 547 cases of iGAS across the province, or a rate of 10.1 cases per 100,000 people.

That’s up from 466 cases in 2022 – and dramatically up from 2016, when there were 303 cases reported in the province, or a rate of 6.2 cases per 100,000 people.

iGAS is caused by a bacteria called group A Streptococcus pyogenes, which usually causes a mild illness, such as strep throat or impetigo, which is a skin infection.

However, this bacteria can lead to more serious illnesses if it reaches a person’s lungs, blood, or tissue around a muscle.

These more severe cases are called iGAS infections, which can cause pneumonia or sepsis, according to the BCCDC.

Kids and vulnerable people most at risk

While these severe cases are “extremely rare” in B.C., the province is warning that iGAS can be life-threatening, particularly for people with chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, those who are on medications like steroids, and in children.

The BCCDC adds that cases of iGAS among children are high this year.

As of Friday, there have been 51 cases of iGAS among people under the age of 20, more than twice the number of infections recorded last year, when there were 20 cases recorded in this age group in B.C.

If a child appears to have a serious iGAS infection, parents are urged to take their kids to the emergency room or an urgent and primary care centre.

A list of symptoms of iGAS in kids, released by the BCCDC, include:

  • A fever for more than 5 days in a child of any age
  • Fever with either a fine red rash (sandpaper-like texture), full body rash similar to sun burn in appearance, and/or red, swollen tongue
  • A fever in a child under 3-months of age, a child with immune system issues or complex chronic health conditions
  • Child is working hard to breathe (e.g. chest appears to sink in just above or below the breastbone with each breath, you may hear grunting or notice the head bobbing with each breath in a young infant)
  • Pale skin, whitish or blue lips
  • Very sleepy or having difficulty waking up
  • Child becomes very sick, very quickly

To prevent group A streptococcal infections, the province recommends washing your hands regularly, staying home if you are sick, cleaning wounds and monitoring for infections, and staying up to date on flu and COVID-19 vaccinations.

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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