Six children under the age of 10 have died since October after contracting invasive Group A strep.

Provincial data shows that between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, at least 48 people have died after contracting the bacterial disease.

Of those, three were between the ages of one and four, and two were between the ages of five and nine.

A newborn under the age of one also died.

Public Health Ontario said in a Jan. 11 report this represents half of the total number of pediatric deaths reported in the entire 2022-2023 season. They also said that invasive Group A Streptococcal Disease (iGAS) in individuals under the age of 18 more than doubled in December compared to November.

Group A Strep is an infection caused by bacteria that spreads from person-to-person through direct contact with the nose, throat, respiratory droplets or wound secretions. The common non-invasive illnesses include strep throat, skin infections, such as impetigo, and scarlet fever. It often can be treated with antibiotics.

The disease becomes “invasive” when the bacteria enters the blood stream or deep tissue. The provincial health agency says this can result in severe, life-threatening illness such as pneumonia, meningitis, septicemia, and other serious diseases.

In June, Ontario hospitals and pediatric physicians were warned by the province to “be alert” for symptoms of iGAS due to an “increasing trend.”

“Rates of illness are highest among those aged 0 to 4 and 65 years of age and older,” Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Barbara Yaffe wrote in a summer memo to emergency departments, labour and delivery units, and primary care organizations.

“Others at increased risk include those with immunocompromising conditions, chickenpox, and people experiencing homelessness or who use injection drugs.”

Public Health Ontario says 894 cases of iGAS were reported in the province between October 2022 and April 30, 2023.

Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 there were an additional 540 confirmed iGAS cases. Of those cases, about 74 per cent were hospitalized.

There were 19 other deaths in adults between the ages of 18 and 64, and 23 deaths in seniors.

Record number of invasive strep infections noted in Canada

The Public Health Agency of Canada told CTV News on Wednesday that iGAS activity in 2023 was higher in Canada compared to pre-pandemic years, particularly in children under the age of 15.

Nationally, the number of samples submitted surpassed 4,600 in 2023. The last time there was this many samples were submitted was in 2019, when 3,236 cases were identified