Public health leaders in Roanoke monitoring Strep infections

(Parker Michels-Boyce, Virginia Mercury)
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 1:26 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Public health leaders in the Roanoke City Alleghany Health Districts are monitoring cases of illnesses caused by invasive strep group A.

During her public health briefing Tuesday morning, Dr. Cynthia Morrow said group A strep can cause a wide range of illnesses such as strep throat and impetigo. More moderate illnesses include abscesses and cellulitis.

But invasive group A strep can cause more moderate or severe illness including Toxic Shock Syndrome and necrotizing fasciitis, also sometimes referred to as flesh-eating bacteria. The two highest risk factors for disease of this severity include substance use disorder and a history of minor injuries compromising the skin’s integrity, such as scrapes and burns.

“For skin wounds, we’re thinking about pain that is disproportionate to the wound, redness that is spreading, something called streaking where the wound is here, but you see a red line going up,” Dr. Morrow explained. “And of course, any fever would be something that we would be concerned about.”

Only invasive disease is reportable to the health department. Dr. Morrow said in 2022, the health district recorded more community acquired group A strep than the year before, totaling 26 cases for the year. That was up from 2021′s report, which concluded a total of 15 cases. Of last year’s cases, 10 were identified in people with skin infections. Ten of the cases were identified in people who had substance use disorder.

While some years reported an even higher number of cases, Dr. Morrow said they were mostly contained to places like long term care facilities, while 2022′s cases seem to be more spread out. So far, Morrow’s team has logged six cases total for January of this year. Data for February is forthcoming.

“One of the things that sometimes happens with invasive group A strep is that someone might start with a viral syndrome. So maybe they have a cold or influenza. And then instead of getting better, they get worse,” Dr. Morrow explained. “So typically, if you have a viral infection, it’s gonna get better after three, four or five days, if suddenly you’re on the mend... and things get worse, that’s something to call your doctor about to call your healthcare provider about.”

The health district wants to let people know about the cases and Dr. Morrow encourages people to get care right away when they notice symptoms, particularly those associated with skin infections.

“The most important thing about group A strep is it’s a bacterial infection, and we’ve got great antibiotics to counter it to treat it,” she explained. “So it is treatable if it’s identified early on.”

Dr. Morrow said maintaining good hand hygiene is important for protecting against group A strep and its invasive forms, as well as properly cleaning and treating skin wounds.