New strain of strep bacteria causes nearly 30 hospitalizations, 3 deaths in Alaska

An outbreak of a newly detected strain of group A Streptococcus bacteria has hospitalized at least 28 people in Alaska since the strain was first detected in early 2016. Three of those infected have died due to other invasive disease.

According to Alaska Dispatch News, the new strain was first detected in Fairbanks in early 2016. Ten people were hospitalized with the infection there, one of whom died. No new infections have been reported in Fairbanks for several months.

The strain was then identified in Anchorage in July, and an outbreak started in October. Eighteen people there have been hospitalized with the bacteria, two have died and two suspected cases are awaiting laboratory confirmation.

Strep bacteria can cause a number of infections ranging from less-severe strep throat to toxic shock syndrome and necrotizing fasciitis, a fast-spreading bacterial skin infection that kills the body's soft tissue. Among the 18 people infected with this strain of the bacteria in Anchorage, six have developed necrotizing fasciitis, two have developed toxic shock syndrome and one developed cellulitis, a bacterial infection. That person lost an arm.

Joe McLaughlin, MD, state epidemiologist and chief of the Alaska section of epidemiology with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, told the Dispatch News the outbreak is largest of its kind since 2000, the year public health officials began tracking group A Streptococcus bacterial infections.

According to Dr. McLaughlin, there are approximately 220 strains of group A strep. While new strains are not commonly identified, when they are, they are often associated with outbreaks due to low immunity.

"This outbreak is a new strain that we've never seen before. So having this increased number of cases of group A strep is not atypical," Dr. McLaughlin told the Dispatch News.

The elderly, very young and those with compromised immune systems tend to be more susceptible to group A strep infections.

Additionally, Native Americans tend to be at higher risk for such infections. "From data that have been published nationally, there can be a higher risk in certain racial demographic groups," Dr. McLaughlin told Dispatch News. "It's unclear why that is."

All three of the dead were Alaska Natives.

More articles on infection control:  
Infectious disease death trends in the US: 8 key points 
Survey shows poor adherence to CLABSI prevention guidelines worldwide 
Top 10 infection control stories, Nov. 21-25

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