Health and Healthcare Systems

4 infections that are on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic

Strep A is a type of bacteria that causes infection in the throat and on the skin.

Strep A is a type of bacteria that causes infection in the throat and on the skin. Image: Unsplash/Fusion Medical Animation

Stephen Hall
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This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare

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  • Case numbers for infections like Strep A, flu and RSV have risen since the pandemic.
  • In the US, it’s estimated that, so far this season, there have been at least 24 million illnesses, 260,000 hospitalizations and 16,000 deaths from flu.
  • There has also been increased drug resistance in bacteria causing bloodstream infections.

During pandemic-related lockdowns, it wasn’t just the spread of COVID-19 being halted. Inevitably, other infections also waned, as school children stayed at home, offices closed their doors and face masks became a normal public sight.

Now, with societies opened up again, infections are on the rise, with one expert telling Sky News that they’re worse or more prolific because “lack of mixing in kids may have caused a drop in population-wide immunity”.

Here are four illnesses that are currently on the increase.

Strep A

Strep A is a type of bacteria found in the throat and on the skin “that usually causes fever and throat infections, such as strep throat or scarlet fever,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In rare cases it can be deadly.

In December 2022, the CDC announced an investigation following a rise in case numbers for Strep A. While in the UK, the rate for the current season is 2.3 cases per 100,000 children aged one to four, compared with an average of 0.5 in the pre-pandemic seasons, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

Symptoms to look out for in babies or young children that may indicate severe illness include “irritability, difficulty waking, high-pitched crying, refusal to eat/feed, fewer or no wet nappies or decreased urination, cold or mottled limbs and difficulty breathing,” according to ABC News.

This graphic shows how Strep A infection cases have spiked in the UK, following the pandemic.
This graphic shows how Strep A infection cases have spiked in the UK, following the pandemic. Image: UK Government.


RSV is a common respiratory virus that causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract in babies under two and older adults with pre-existing conditions. An estimated 60,000-120,000 older adults in the United States are hospitalized from RSV each year, and 6,000-10,000 die, the CDC says.

Late last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that about three-quarters of US hospital beds for children were full, partly due to the increase in RSV infections.

Dr Emily Martin, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, told the New York Times that case numbers are on the rise as children were shielded from common infections during COVID-19 lockdowns.

“If a child is born in the summer and they get exposed for the first time in the winter, they are at risk of having more serious disease,” she said. “But many infants didn’t experience the first RSV season on the regular schedule that they would have, particularly if they were born in or after 2020.”


Case numbers increased last year, with people reporting bare shelves in the flu section at pharmacies and grocery stores, but they are now declining in most areas of the US, the CDC reports.

Antimicrobial resistance is high

Increased drug resistance in bacteria causing bloodstream infections, including against last-resort antibiotics, was seen in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, a World Health Organization report based on data from 87 countries in 2020 showed.

The overuse and/or misuse of antibiotics has helped microbes to become resistant to many treatments, while the pipeline of replacement therapies in development is alarmingly sparse, Reuters reports.

Rates of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) remain very high, but last-resort antibiotics are only just starting to lose potency, said Dr Carmem Pessoa-Silva, the lead for WHO Global Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System.

"We have a very narrow window of opportunity … for responding to the threat," she warned.


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