Japan sees alarming rise in rare and deadly infection cases

Japan is grappling with a concerning surge in cases of streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS), a rare but deadly condition caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria.

Over 1,000 cases have been reported in the first half of 2024, already surpassing the total number from last year. This spike has raised alarms among health officials and the public, prompting urgent calls for heightened awareness and preventive measures.

Symptoms of STSS

STSS is a deadly bacterial infection when Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria invade the bloodstream and deep tissues. While GAS commonly causes mild infections like strep throat, certain strains can lead to more severe conditions, including STSS and necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease.

Symptoms of STSS start with fever, chills, muscle aches, and nausea, often progressing rapidly to low blood pressure, organ failure, and sometimes, death. Early intervention is crucial, and immediate hospitalization is recommended for those showing signs of the illness.

Why STSS is rising?

The exact cause behind the sudden rise in STSS cases in Japan remains unclear. However, experts suggest that the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions may have contributed to the spread of the bacteria.

During the pandemic, decreased exposure to common infections may have left individuals, particularly children, more vulnerable to severe diseases like STSS. Japan’s Health Ministry has emphasized the importance of hygiene practices, such as regular hand washing and cleaning wounds, to prevent infections.

“It’s still an uncommon infection, but the community and doctors should be aware that there is an increase in the number of cases,” Steer said.

Global perspective and concerns

Countries like the United States and Australia have also reported increases in group A streptococcal diseases. The rise in STSS cases emphasises the need for global vigilance and awareness.

As STSS remains a rare condition, the recent surge highlights the unpredictable nature of bacterial infections and the importance of being prepared to address them.

Currently, there is no vaccine for STSS or Group A Strep infections. Researchers worldwide are working to develop a vaccine, with hopes of availability in the next 5 to 10 years. In the meantime, public health measures and prompt medical attention remain the best defences against this potentially deadly disease.

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