The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has noted more than 4,600 invasive group A streptococcus samples from 2023 – the highest Canada has seen.
Group A streptococcus, a bacteria that can cause illnesses like strep throat, can develop into acute infections that can lead to pneumonia, a flesh-eating disease, or toxic shock syndrome.
Some Canadians across the country that contracted the bacteria have developed infections requiring hospital treatment.
CTVNews.ca asked about their experiences with strep A, and what sort of symptoms occurred. The emailed responses have not been independently verified.
‘Amputation’ and ‘flesh-eating disease’
Lindsey Robinson has been dealing with flesh-eating disease, or Necrotizing fasciitis, a bacteria that destroys skin, fat and tissue, since April 2023.
The 37-year-old, mother of two from Kingston, Ont., said her day began normally; she did not feel sick.
After running a work errand, she felt nauseous and returned home. Initially, her temperature rose, but was not yet a fever. Several hours later, she spoke to a friend on the phone, when her health started deteriorating.
“Apparently I was talking nonsense and then passed out, so she called an ambulance,” Robinson told CTVNews.ca in an interview. “In between that I had also texted my husband and I said, ‘I think there’s something wrong … I need to go to the hospital.'”
Robinson begins questioning her recollection of events.
Lindsey Robinson is pictured with one of her children and pet. (Contributed)
Later that day, medical personnel informed her that she went into surgery due to a flesh-eating disease. Hospital staff intubated her overnight and kept her in the ICU for five days.
When she woke up, there was a wound on the lower half of her breast.
“They have absolutely no idea why or how (it got there),” Robinson said. “I kept getting asked if I had gotten injured, if somebody had hit me in the chest.”
Robinson told doctors she had a small rash a few weeks prior in the same area, and that her entire family had been sick with strep for the month.
Robinson has been off work since April and a homecare nurse visits her daily. In November, the wound tested positive for strep and a new round of medication was needed.
At the beginning of January, Robinson’s wound was improving, however the progress receded over two days.
“The wound grew back to the same size as it was the day they sent me home,” she said. “So it’s like we’re right back to where we started.”
Robinson is not the only one dealing with infections leading to wounds from strep A.
Dan L., of Trent Hills, Ont., almost had his finger amputated after contracting strep A. Dan asked CTVNews.ca to omit his last name for privacy.
In September, the 62-year-old accidentally punctured the tip of his index finger with a screw while working on his deck.
“By all accounts, it was a minor puncture,” Dan told CTVNews.ca in an email. “I put pressure on it to stop the bleeding, washed it up, applied some Polysporin and a small bandage and was back to work.”
The bandage was removed two days following the incident after seeing signs of healing, but on Saturday morning, the wound worsened.
“In less than 24 hours my finger/hand went from normal to a grotesque and invasive painful infection,” he said. “From the initial injury to Saturday morning was just over 60 hours.”
Dan L. pictured in front of his deck that he was working on before getting strep A. (Contributed)
Dan went to his local hospital and received an “aggressive treatment of antibiotics” and continued to return to the ER every six hours. By Saturday night, Dan said, the infection was “creeping” up his arm.
“When I asked my attending doctor if I was going to lose my finger, I didn’t get a positive response, only a look of grave concern,” Dan said. “It wasn’t until approximately 48 hours later that we knew we were dealing with group A strep …The words ‘amputation’ and ‘flesh-eating disease’ were tossed about.”
By Tuesday morning, Dan was able to see another doctor who prescribed different antibiotics and followed up on the infection every 24 hours. On Thursday, Dan’s finger needed to be operated on to “clean up” the infection.
“It was a very scary 6 days. I am happy to say that my finger/hand is back to about 95 per cent (usage),” he said. “Dr. VanBrenk saved my finger, perhaps even more, from a very scary situation and an aggressive evasive strep A infection.”
‘Not just a sore throat’
Canadians are reporting multiple symptoms of strep A infections that are not just a sore throat.
For Nichole Bishop’s son, the strep A infection presented as “significant” pain in his neck.
“Wednesday the 10th (of Jan.), he woke me up at midnight crying to say that the back of his neck hurt,” Bishop told CTVNews.ca in an interview.
Her son Roman, 10, had been tobogganing a few days prior and hit his head. She gave him Advil and he fell asleep sitting up due to the neck pain.
That day Bishop brought Roman to a primary care centre, which tested him for strep.
“I really didn’t think he had strep because when I think of strep, I think of sore throat,” Bishop said.
Both the nurse and Bishop were surprised when the test was positive. Due to the tobogganing incident and the neck pain, the primary care centre sent Bishop and Roman to the hospital for a CT scan.
“We’re waiting in emergency and the doctor comes back and brings us into a room,” Bishop said through tears. “He said ‘The tables have turned…he’s being admitted.'”
The CT scan showed fluid between Roman’s throat and spine from a strep infection.
“We would have never found it if he wouldn’t have bumped his head tobogganing,” Bishop said. “We would have just been sent home. So it was a total fluke that we caught it when we did. Nobody was concerned.”
Roman was hospitalized for five days before being discharged home, requiring medication every three hours. He was able to return to school on Monday, Bishop said.
Roman Bishop is pictured on the day he was told he could go home from the hospital after having strep A. (Contributed)
Another parent, Jessica Di Battista, told CTVNews.ca in an email that strep symptoms may look like other illnesses.
Her 4-year-old daughter ended up in the hospital for 16 days after she noticed a fever and difficulty walking.
“The doctors discovered that her knees were very inflamed and her hemoglobin levels were so low that she almost needed a blood transfusion,” Di Battista said in an email.
Medical staff believed her daughter had rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease that can be triggered by a strep infection, the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s website reads.
Her daughter needed a procedure to drain the fluid in her knees, followed by steroid injections to the site. For the next month, she took medication daily and a penicillin shot.
“It was a very scary time and I’m terrified she’s going to catch strep again from my 6-year-old,” Di Battista said. “If it was indeed rheumatic fever that she had last year, she could get deathly ill if she contracts strep again.”