GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is seeing an increase in strep A infections and has had recent deaths in West Michigan children.

Invasive group A strep infections are still rare, but doctors say they can lead to serious complications or death and want more people to be aware.     

Dr. George Fogg, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, said strep A infections are when a strep infection goes beyond the places the bacteria is typically found in a standard strep throat infection.

“If this bacteria gets into kind the wrong part of your body or wrong compartment in your body it can actually cause a very severe and rapidly progressing infection. This bacteria sort of produces a lot of toxins and is very pro-inflammatory, so it can cause a lot of tissue destruction,” Fogg said.

Fogg said the pediatric hospital has seen deaths in the past few months. Doctors have treated four cases of strep A in the last month and on average see less than five case in a year.

The bacteria is mostly spread through respiratory droplets but there are other ways to get the infection.

“Group A strep actually lives on your skin and so it can actually get through an even through a microscopic cut or something like that. It can cause cellulitis when you have like redness of the skin, pain and things like that,” Fogg said.

It can be treated with common antibiotics, which can be very effective especially if treated early. 

“It can sometimes trigger acute rheumatic fever and that’s the whole reason why we actually treat you for strep throat, we don’t want your immune system to cause that entity but it can also cause these invasive infections too,” Fogg said.

The hospital wants people to be aware of the concern. There are things that can be done to improve the outcomes of patients who get the infection.

“These invasive group A strep infections are rare but they do occur and they are associated with things like influenza and varicella (chicken pox) infections, which we do have immunizations for,” Fogg said.     

For more information on strep A, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage.