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Incidence and treatment of group A streptococcal infections during covid-19 pandemic and 2022 outbreak

Investigation of the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the number of patients with group A streptococcal infections and related antibiotic prescriptions

BMJ Medicine, 2024

Paper information

Authors
Citation
Cunningham C, Fisher L, Wood C, et al. Incidence and treatment of group A streptococcal infections during covid-19 pandemic and 2022 outbreak: retrospective cohort study in England using OpenSAFELY-TPPBMJ Medicine 2024;3:e000791. doi: 10.1136/bmjmed-2023-000791
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Objective

To investigate the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the number of patients with group A streptococcal infections and related antibiotic prescriptions.

Design

Retrospective cohort study in England using OpenSAFELY-TPP.

Setting

Primary care practices in England that used TPP SystmOne software, 1 January 2018 to 31 March 2023, with the approval of NHS England.

Participants

Patients registered at a TPP practice at the start of each month of the study period. Patients with missing data for sex or age were excluded, resulting in a population of 23 816 470 in January 2018, increasing to 25 541 940 by March 2023.

Main outcome measures

Monthly counts and crude rates of patients with group A streptococcal infections (sore throat or tonsillitis, scarlet fever, and invasive group A streptococcal infections), and recommended firstline, alternative, and reserved antibiotic prescriptions linked with a group A streptococcal infection before (pre-April 2020), during, and after (post-April 2021) covid-19 restrictions. Maximum and minimum count and rate for each infectious season (time from September to August), as well as the rate ratio of the 2022-23 season compared with the last comparably high season (2017-18).

Results

The number of patients with group A streptococcal infections, and antibiotic prescriptions linked to an indication of group A streptococcal infection, peaked in December 2022, higher than the peak in 2017-18. The rate ratios for monthly sore throat or tonsillitis (possible group A streptococcal throat infection), scarlet fever, and invasive group A streptococcal infection in 2022-23 relative to 2017-18 were 1.39 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.38 to 1.40), 2.68 (2.59 to 2.77), and 4.37 (2.94 to 6.48), respectively. The rate ratio for prescriptions of first line, alternative, and reserved antibiotics to patients with group A streptococcal infections in 2022-23 relative to 2017-18 were 1.37 (95% CI 1.35 to 1.38), 2.30 (2.26 to 2.34), and 2.42 (2.24 to 2.61), respectively. For individual antibiotic prescriptions in 2022-23, azithromycin showed the greatest relative increase versus 2017-18, with a rate ratio of 7.37 (6.22 to 8.74). This finding followed a marked decrease in the recording of patients with group A streptococcal infections and associated prescriptions during the period of covid-19 restrictions where the maximum count and rates were lower than any minimum rates before the covid-19 pandemic.

Conclusions

Recording of rates of scarlet fever, sore throat or tonsillitis, and invasive group A streptococcal infections, and associated antibiotic prescribing, peaked in December 2022. Primary care data can supplement existing infectious disease surveillance through linkages with relevant prescribing data and detailed analysis of clinical and demographic subgroups.