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Strep throat rising in some areas of the country

Photo: Collected
Strep throat has emerged as a growing concern among children in various regions of the United States, leading to worries that the shortage of antibiotics to treat this condition may worsen as the nation enters the winter months.

Dr. Jennifer Stevenson, the head of the emergency department at Henry Ford Medical Center — Fairlane in Dearborn, Michigan, notes an unprecedented increase in otherwise healthy adults and children presenting with strep throat. She states, "I've been practicing emergency medicine for 25 years, and I have not seen strep throat as frequently as I have in these past six or eight months."

Strep throat has become the second most common diagnosis in Stevenson's emergency department since March, with many of the patients also testing positive for Covid.

This surge in strep throat cases isn't limited to Michigan alone; it's been on the rise for months in parts of the mid-Atlantic and the Southeast as well. Dr. Thomas Lacy, the division chief for Nemours Children's Primary Care, reports a significant increase in strep throat cases. The Nemours system, which includes children's hospitals and pediatricians across several states, has seen a 300% to 400% increase in strep cases since the start of the school year.

The reasons behind the resurgence of strep throat are not entirely clear, but the disruption caused by the COVID pandemic may have played a role in altering the usual patterns of seasonal illnesses. Lacy notes that Florida has seen more than double the number of strep cases compared to last year at this time.

Epic Research, which tracks electronic health records nationwide, has observed a steady increase in strep throat cases, particularly among children aged 4 to 12, since the beginning of August. Fortunately, not all areas are affected, as some major medical centers have not reported significant increases in strep cases.

Unlike certain diseases like Covid and measles, doctors are not mandated to report strep throat diagnoses to local or state health departments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 5 million outpatient visits each year are due to noninvasive group A strep.

Despite an unusual spike in strep cases last year, the current levels appear to be returning to pre-pandemic proportions according to the Epic data.

Photo: Collected
Although the situation may not be overwhelming for some, strep throat is a contagious condition that can cause discomfort and complications if left untreated. Common symptoms include sore throat, extreme fatigue, and high fever. Children may also experience abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. The drug of choice for treating strep throat, amoxicillin, has been in short supply, making it challenging for healthcare providers to administer the recommended treatment.

Dr. Stevenson emphasizes that amoxicillin is usually effective in improving symptoms within about 24 hours. However, as winter approaches, it's possible that the shortage of this antibiotic, especially in its child-friendly form, may worsen, potentially causing difficulties for parents seeking the medication for their children. This shortage forces healthcare professionals to consider alternative antibiotics, which may not be as effective or ideal for the situation. The shortage of amoxicillin adds an extra layer of complexity to the challenge posed by the surge in strep throat cases among children, creating a pressing concern for healthcare providers and parents alike.

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