The Alaska Section of Epidemiology is working in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Arctic Investigations Program and the Municipality of Anchorage on characterizing and responding to an increased number of invasive Group A Streptococcus (GAS, also known as Streptococcus pyogenes) infections identified through ongoing surveillance and that are caused by a novel genotype, emm-type 26 (emm-26).

Group-A Streptococcus (GAS)/CDC
Group-A Streptococcus (GAS)/CDC

During February through November, 2016, there have been 28 confirmed cases of emm-26 invasive infections identified — 10 in the Fairbanks area and 18 in Anchorage. Fourteen of these cases have occurred during October and November and most of the recent Anchorage cases have occurred in homeless men with a history of alcohol abuse.

So far in 2016, 4 of 28 patients with emm-26 invasive GAS have died (2 in Fairbanks, 2 in Anchorage).

The most common disease caused by Streptococcus pyogenes is pharyngitis, or strep throat. Strep throat is very common in school-aged children, particularly in the winter and spring months. Untreated strep throat can lead to more serious complications like rheumatic fever; however, this is relatively uncommon.

It is also a cause of several skin infections such as impetigo and cellulitis. Impetigo is a characterized by a crusty lesion frequently found on the mouth area. Cellulitis typically occurs after a wound or burn where the bacteria enters and spread though the skin and lower tissues.

More serious, potentially life-threatening infections caused by Streptococcus pyogenes include necrotizing fasciitis (commonly called flesh-eating bacteria) and toxic shock syndrome. In addition, Streptococcus pyogenes can cause scarlet fever, septicemia and pneumonia. The death of Muppets creator Jim Henson was a result of an infection with Streptococcus pyogenes.

Penicillin is still the drug of choice for treating Streptococcus pyogenes infections. In cases when a person is penicillin allergic, erythromycin is an alternative treatment.

Alaska health officials have consulted with GAS subject matter experts at CDC in Atlanta.