Seven young children in the Netherlands have already died this year after contracting dangerous streptococcus bacteria. At least 70 children were hospitalized with serious infections. Pediatricians are concerned. They caution to use extreme caution in children with chickenpox.
The number of children infected with so-called GAS (Group A Streptococci) this spring is estimated to be three times higher than in previous years. This is why the Dutch Association of Pediatrics, RIVM and the Dutch College of General Practitioners have sent a warning to pediatricians and general practitioners to be extra alert. “Infections can go from mild to very serious within a day,” says pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases and immunology Michael van der Velleer (UMC Utrecht). Then the child is clearly deteriorating. It is important to start antibiotics as soon as possible.”
Children who are hospitalized have serious infections such as meningitis, septicemia, bone or joint inflammation, and pneumonia with pus in the pleural cavity. Eleven children were diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, in which bacteria cause skin and muscle death – which is why streptococcus is also known as ‘flesh-eating bacteria’. If it occurs in an arm or leg, it sometimes leads to amputation. At least seven children have died from the infection in recent months.
The observed increase in the number of streptococcal infections appears to be a catch-all effect of corona. A spokesperson for the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) says there is no doubt about the spread of new or more infectious bacteria. “Significantly fewer cases have been reported during the Corona pandemic. Due to the Corona measures and the closure of schools and nurseries, children may be less exposed to it. We suspect there is now a catch-up effect.”
The bacteria are known to mainly infect children who have just had chickenpox. “Perhaps broken blisters on the skin are a gateway for bacteria, or the immune system is somewhat weak, so bacteria take their chance,” explains Van der Flier. “It appears that fewer children have had chickenpox in recent years and that the virus is spreading more quickly now that corona measures have been lifted. With more complications such as severe streptococcal infections.”
Parents do not panic, assures the pediatrician. But he advises them to be very vigilant, especially after they have had chickenpox. “Go to the doctor if the fever returns, a red spot appears on the skin that spreads or the child is generally ill. If necessary, give the child with chickenpox paracetamol as a pain reliever, not ibuprofen or diclofenac: these can increase the risk of serious infection.”
Recently, there has also appeared to be a sharp rise in the number of young children with acute hepatitis. Within weeks, three children were so sick that a liver transplant was necessary. In total, the counter is now thirteen children with acute hepatitis, including mild cases. This is not a concern, says Karoly Ely, president of the Dutch Pediatric Association. “It doesn’t seem like more than usual, but these cases came within a remarkably short period.” Last summer, an astonishing number of babies ended up in the hospital with RS. Then the experts also assumed that there was a catch-up effect after the aura.
Streptococcus can be found in the mucous membranes of the nose, throat or vagina of many people without making them sick. It can cause fairly harmless infections such as laryngitis, scarlet fever and impetigo. In the rare cases when GAS bacteria penetrate the body, it can lead to serious infections, such as puerperal fever in women who have just given birth.
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