The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating an increase in the number and severity of cases of Group A Streptococcal infections in January. The bacterial infection is most commonly seen in cases of strep throat, but several recent cases have taken the form of severe skin infections and have progressed rapidly to a life-threatening condition known as Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome, or STSS.
One 15-year-old girl from LaGrange died Jan. 5 from STSS. Other cases have been identified in York, Cumberland and Oxford counties, with additional cases under investigation. At least two people have been hospitalized in intensive care.
STSS most often develops after an “invasive” strep infection of the skin or a superficial wound and causes a rapid drop in blood pressure and failure of the liver and kidneys.
Dr. Dora Anne Mills, head of the Maine CDC, said Tuesday that at least 10 cases of invasive Group A Streptococcus have been reported in January, at least four of which have resulted in STSS. This compares to just one case in January 2009 and a total of 21 cases for the entire 2009 season.
“These cases have been identified all over the state,” Mills said. Ages of the victims have ranged from 15 to 83, she said.
Symptoms of invasive Group A Streptococcal infection include fever, dizziness, confusion, abrupt onset of pain, and a flat red rash over large areas of the body. Symptoms may develop suddenly and become severe quickly.
The spread of the infection can be prevented by good hand-washing, particularly after coughing or sneezing and before preparing foods or eating. People with sore throats diagnosed as strep throat should stay home from work or school for 24 hours after starting an antibiotic.