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Strep A symptoms misdiagnosed as Melbourne toddler’s fever as surge in infection prompts vaccine calls

Melbourne mother Sandeep Kaur was told her 16-month-old daughter’s symptoms were nothing to worry about.

The toddler ended up spending two months in the intensive care unit, suffering kidney failure and swelling so intense she could no longer walk.

“It was terrible, we never expected that,” Kaur told 7NEWS.

Watch the latest news and stream for free on 7plus >>

Little Girsirat was misdiagnosed with a fever when she was actually fighting strep A — a type of bacteria that can cause sore throats, scarlet fever and skin sores.

Strep A affects about 750 million people globally and kills 500,000 a year.

Blake was told he had suspected tonsillitis. Days later he collapsed and died

Parents are being warned about an alarming surge in the number of children being diagnosed, with cases of severe strep A up more than 500 per cent since the pandemic.

The number of children admitted to hospital with strep A rose from 23 in 2020 to 107 in 2022, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute found.

In extreme cases, strep A can enter the blood stream and cause rapidly progressing sepsis, toxic shock syndrome, pneumonia and necrotising fasciitis (flesh-eating disease).

For Kaur, invasive strep A quickly took hold of Girsirat.

“It was a very hard time for us,” she said.

A major concern for doctors is how difficult it is to diagnose, with the infection often presenting as a common cold.

“The GP said it was just a fever she’s having,” Kaur said.

The unseasonable spike in cases in Australia has prompted calls for a vaccine to prevent the deadly infection.

The strep A spike in Australia mirrored a similar rise in the northern hemisphere, despite the differences in seasons.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s Dr Yara-Natalie Abo said it was likely due to a mix of environmental factors and viruses in circulation.

“More research is needed into whether new strains might be responsible,” Abo said.

Sixteen-month-old Girsirat spent two months in ICU after contracting severe strep A. Credit: 7NEWSMelbourne mother Sandeep Kaur was initially told her 16-month-old daughter Girsirat had a fever. Credit: 7NEWS

Strep A disproportionately affects young children, the elderly, pregnant women and Indigenous Australians, and there is currently no vaccine against the disease.

However, researchers at the institute are currently testing on one vaccine option, which they hope to make effective and accessible.

“We would like to think in the next 12 to 24 months, we could show proof of concept of a good vaccine that we can then take through to further trials,” the institute’s Professor Andrew Steer said.

The centre hopes it can have jabs in arms within five years, but it says more funding is needed.

The average vaccine costs about $500 million before it hits shelves.

“We hope this research will accelerate the development of a vaccine and move things forward,” Steer said.

“A vaccine for strep A will save hundreds of thousands of lives

every year and prevent millions of infections that send children and adults to the hospital or doctor.”

– With Beth Yeoman and AAP

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