Prince Edward Island is seeing a higher-than-usual number of cases of a bacterial infection that has caused deaths in other parts of the country.
Group A strep is caused by a type of streptococcus bacteria commonly found in the nose and throat of up to 30 per cent of children and one per cent of adults, according to P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Office.
The bacterium is mostly known for causing a sore throat (strep throat), skin and wound infections, and scarlet fever. In rare cases, it can cause serious disease by invading areas of the body where it is not usually found; these occurrences are referred to as invasive Group A strep.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says there were more than 4,600 cases in the country in 2023, representing a jump of 40 per cent over the previous yearly high, back in 2019.
In the fall of 2023, invasive Group A strep was responsible for 48 deaths in Ontario, with six children among the dead.
New Brunswick reported 10 deaths in 2023, and there have already been two deaths in that province so far this year.
P.E.I. rate also jumped in 2023
Prince Edward Island's CPHO couldn't say how many deaths — if any — were caused by invasive Group A strep last year.
This image from the U.S.-based National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows an electron microscope image of Group A streptococcus (in orange). (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/The Associated Press)
But 28 infections were reported in 2023, about three times as many as in a normal year.
Invasive Group A strep is spread from person to person through direct contact with the nose or mouth secretions of an infected person, or through direct contact with sores on an infected person's skin.
A high burden of co-circulating viral infections may be contributing to the increased severity and complications through co-infection. — P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Office
"A high burden of co-circulating viral infections may be contributing to the increased severity and complications through co-infection," the public health office said in an email statement to CBC News.
"There is no evidence at this time that cases are related to a specific bacterial type or an increase in antibiotic resistance."
Limiting the spread
The CPHO offered the following tips to mitigate the spread of invasive Group A strep.
Follow strict infection control, including good hand hygiene practices.
Keep any wounds or open sores covered.
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
As well, health officials urge parents to make sure children are immunized with the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine since that could potentially prevent up to 15 per cent of all childhood cases of invasive Group A strep. Children on P.E.I. are routinely immunized with two doses of varicella vaccine (MMRV) at the ages of 12 and 18 months.
For adults, getting a dose of the updated COVID-19 (XBB) vaccine and an annual dose of influenza vaccine will reduce the risk of illness from viral infections this winter, the CPHO said.