Seven young children in the Netherlands have already died this year after being infected with a dangerous streptococcal bacterium. At least 70 children were hospitalized with serious infections. Pediatricians are concerned. They warn against paying extra attention to children with chickenpox.
The number of young children infected with a so-called GAS bacterium (Group A Streptococci) in the spring is estimated to be three times higher than in previous years. Therefore, the Dutch Pediatric Association, RIVM and the Dutch General Practitioners’ Association have sent a warning to pediatricians and general practitioners to be extra vigilant. “An infection can go from mild to very serious within a day,” says pediatrician, infectious disease immunologist Michiel van der Flier (UMC Utrecht). “The child is deteriorating so visibly. It is important to start antibiotics as soon as possible. ”
The children admitted to the hospital suffered from serious infections such as meningitis, sepsis, osteoarthritis and pneumonia with pus in the pleural space. Eleven children were diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, where the bacterium causes skin and muscles to die – which is why streptococci are also known as ‘carnivorous bacteria’. If it happens on an arm or a leg, it sometimes leads to amputations. At least seven young children have died from the infection in recent months.
The striking increase in the number of streptococcal infections appears to be a catch-up effect of corona. This is not an outbreak of a new or more contagious bacterium, says a spokesman for the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). “Significantly fewer cases have been reported during the corona pandemic. Due to the corona measures and the closure of schools and crèches, children may be less exposed to it. We suspect that there is now a catch-up effect.”
It is known that the bacteria mainly affect children who have just had chickenpox. “Maybe the broken blisters on the skin are a gateway for the bacteria, or maybe the immune system is somewhat weakened so the bacteria seize the chance,” Van der Flier explains. “It seems that fewer children have had chickenpox in recent years and that the virus is spreading faster now that corona measures have been lifted. With also several complications such as severe streptococcal infections. “
Parents do not have to panic, the pediatrician emphasizes. But he advises them to be extra vigilant, especially after a chickenpox infection. “Go to the doctor if the fever comes back, there is a red spot on the skin that spreads, or the child generally becomes more ill. And if necessary, give a child with chickenpox paracetamol as a painkiller, not ibuprofen or diclofenac: these may increase the risk of a serious infection.
Recently, there has also been an increase in the number of young children admitted with acute hepatitis. Within a few weeks, three children became so ill that a liver transplant was necessary. In total, the count now stands at thirteen children with acute hepatitis, including the mild cases. It is not alarming, says chairman Károly Illy from the Dutch Association for Pediatrics. “It does not appear to be more than normal, but those cases came within a remarkably short time.” Last summer, a staggering number of babies ended up in hospital with RS virus. Experts also assumed that there was a catch-up effect after corona.
Streptococci can be found in many people in the mucous membranes of the nose, throat or vagina without making them sick. It can cause quite harmless infections such as laryngitis, scarlet fever and impetigo. In the rare cases where the GAS bacteria penetrate further into the body, it can lead to serious infections, such as postpartum fever in women who have just given birth.
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