The Centers for Disease Control said it has been monitoring a strain of strep throat known as Group A streptococcus in children.
The strain was flagged by health officials in Colorado and Minnesota in late 2022. The CDC said cases occurred earlier than in previous years.
The CDC has 10 Active Bacterial Core surveillance sites throughout the U.S. At its sites in Denver and Minneapolis, it noted a combined total of 34 Group A streptococcus infections in children from October through December.
From 2016-19, the sites averaged a combined 11 cases per year. 2020 and 2021 averaged four cases.
"Group A streptococcal disease is a group of conditions caused by a bacteria called 'group A strep,'" Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases physician with the Mayo Clinic Children's Center, said. "The one that people are probably most familiar with is strep throat. Strep throat is a relatively common infection, especially in children of school age, between ages 5 and 15. It's very unusual in children under 3 years of age."
Experts say group A strep, on rare occasions, can become invasive, causing life-threatening illnesses. Of the 34 cases in Minnesota and Colorado, two were fatal, according to the CDC.
Making matters worse, officials noted a shortage of amoxicillin, an antibiotic commonly used to treat Group A streptococcus.
"If you run into a situation where you've been prescribed amoxicillin and you're not able to find it for your child, it's really important to talk to your pharmacist as well as the health care professional who prescribed the medication, because there are other alternatives that can be used," said Rajapakse.
The Mayo Clinic offers the following symptoms for parents to look for as possible signs of strep throat:
- Rapid onset of severe sore throat
- Painful swallowing
- Swollen, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
- Tiny red spots back of the throat, the roof of the mouth
- Red, swollen tonsils that may have white patches or pus
"It's important to recognize that if your child has a sore throat, but it comes along with other symptoms, like a runny nose and cough, it is much more likely that that is being caused by a virus and not bacteria," said Rajapakse.