The Grapevine

Scarlet Fever Alert: New Bacterial Strain Found To Cause Condition

A new strain of group A streptococcus bacteria was discovered by a team of researchers from the Imperial College London and they identified it as M1UK.

M1UK looks like to have originated in England and Wales way back 2010 per the researchers’ years of study since 2016 as published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The new bacterial strain was found dominantly in cases of scarlet fever, throat infections and other invasive diseases since 2014. Also, the analysis discovered that the M1UK produces even more and varied types of streptococcal toxins, which complicates into illnesses and causes it to spiral.

According to Professor Shiranee Sriskandan, senior author from the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial, there were reported cases of scarlet fever since 2014 but only in 2016 did serious, invasive cases caused by Strep A increased.

Sriskandan added that their study, which was carried out in combined efforts with the Public Health England, targets to determine the link of the prevalence of the new strain with the rise of cases of scarlet fever and invasive infections. As for the result, the new Strep A looks to grow in both.

“Scarlet fever is a very visible signal of how much Strep A is circulating in the wider community, and causing sore throats, “ Sriskandan said.

Scarlet fever is a contagious disease that commonly affects children showing symptoms of increased body temperature and sore throat. The disease recurs every March up to May each year and is easily cured with antibiotics. But lately, it has rocketed to more than 19,000 cases recorded in 2016.

In the spring of 2016, the researchers noted that the infections caused by the new bacteria nearly doubled in number unlike the past five years. Along with this occurrence is the increased case of scarlet fever.

The group conducted an investigation to identify whether the strain is also changing in any way.

From 2014 to 2016, the team identified the subgroups that are causing scarlet fever or throat infections.

The data revealed that M1UK caused the increase in the case of illnesses by five percent in 2014, 19 percent in 2015 and 33 percent in 2016.

The team's investigation has also discovered that the new bacterial strain produces streptococcal pyrogenic exotoxin A (SpeA) nine-times more than other strains. This could possibly justify the rise of Strep A cases.

Dr. Elita Jauneikaite, first author of the study from Imperial, said that uncertainty around the cause of the growing cases of scarlet fever remains.

"The emergence of this new strain suggests we may need increased surveillance of the type of strains causing scarlet fever, throat infections and sepsis—both at a UK and global level," Dr. Nicola Lynskey, co-first author said.

There is an ongoing research on the most appropriate approach of decreasing the effects of Strep A, including the development of a vaccine.

Dr. Theresa Lamagni of the Public Health England assured that the agency will continue to partner to probe scarlet fever's re-emergence and to gain better knowledge on the transmission of the disease in varied settings and patient groups.

"Through monitoring changes we can assess the impact on any new strains on patients and ensure rapid response to emerging threats," Lamagni added.

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