In 2023, Japan experienced a record number of cases of streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS). Health experts warn the figure could rise as the number of patients diagnosed with STSS had decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic but surged to 941 last year.
An estimated 30 percent of STSS cases end in death due to the rapid worsening of symptoms. The health ministry requested local governments to analyze samples from STSS patients to identify the strains as the country faces concerns about the spread of highly virulent and infectious strains.
STSS mainly results from streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A streptococcus, which commonly causes strep throat, particularly in children. The infection can turn deadly, especially among adults over 30, with senior citizens being the most affected group.
Symptoms of STSS include sore throat, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy. However, cases of death within dozens of hours due to multiple organ failure or breathing problems have been reported. The bacteria cause tissue necrosis around muscles and can enter the bloodstream and spinal fluid, leading to a sudden decrease in organ function.
The group A strain is responsible for more fatalities among those under 50. Sixty-five patients in this age group were diagnosed with STSS between July and December 2023, and about one-third of them died. The infection process remains unclear, but the bacterium is known to infect patients through wounds on the hands and feet.
Healthcare professionals emphasize the importance of washing hands and keeping wounds clean to prevent infection. Immediate medical treatment should be initiated if symptoms seem abnormal. It is recommended to seek medical attention if a wound swells or becomes painful, accompanied by other symptoms like fever.
The highly virulent and infectious UK strain, prevalent in the West, has been detected in Japan, with nine cases reported within the same prefecture since August.