Vaccine for Strep A is on the horizon after scientists detect antibody that fights the infection

TECHNOLOGY

A vaccine that protects against Stage A could be on the horizon after scientists made a breakthrough in understanding how the body fights bacteria.

Strep A usually causes a mild infection such as strep throat, impetigo, and scarlet fever. But, in exceptionally rare cases, it can lead to a deadly illness. It has killed 24 children in the UK in recent months.

As it stands, the infection can be easily treated with antibiotics if caught early. However, if the bacteria became resistant to the drugs, it would pose a “great threat to public health”, experts say.

But Swedish researchers have now discovered an antibody that fights Strep A bacteria in an unusual way, which they believe is the key to developing a vaccine.

Swedish researchers have discovered an antibody that fights Strep A bacteria in an unusual way, which they believe is the key to developing a vaccine.

Swedish researchers have discovered an antibody that fights Strep A bacteria in an unusual way, which they believe is the key to developing a vaccine.

Strep A is a bacteria that can cause infections of the throat, skin and respiratory tract.  If an infection is left untreated, it can cause serious complications.  Ear infections, toxic shock syndrome, and kidney inflammation are complications that can occur.

Strep A is a bacteria that can cause infections of the throat, skin and respiratory tract. If an infection is left untreated, it can cause serious complications. Ear infections, toxic shock syndrome, and kidney inflammation are complications that can occur.

The researchers, from Lund University, studied the blood of patients who had recovered from a severe Strep A infection to determine how well their immune systems had fought off the bacteria.

They mapped the antibodies their bodies made when they were sick with Strep A.

This allowed them to identify those that could be leveraged for drugs or vaccines after an infection occurs.

So far, researchers using this method have failed to develop antibody-based treatments that work against Strep A, according to the team.

However, the Swedish group found an antibody that works in a ‘rare’ way against Strep A that ‘has never been described before’ and ‘may explain why so many vaccine attempts have failed’.

The antibodies are shaped like the letter Y. The one they detected, called Ab25, used its two ‘arms’ to latch on to two different parts of a protein on the surface of Strep A bacteria — called the M protein.

Where this unique process was detected, the body was able to mount a strong response to the bacteria.

Typically, antibodies use one arm to bind to a single site, the researchers said. But this process is ineffective against Strep A.

The Doctor. Wael Bahnan, an immunologist in Lund and one of the study’s authors, said: ‘This opens up possibilities where previous vaccine attempts have failed and means that the monoclonal antibody we use has the potential to protect against infections.’

The team carried out further tests with the antibody in animals and found that it was able to produce a “strong immune response against the bacteria”.

They have now applied for a patent based on their findings, published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, and hope that the antibody will eventually lead to Strep A treatments and vaccines.

Study author Professor Pontus Nordenfelt said: “Normally, an antibody binds via one of its two Y arms to its target protein at a single location, regardless of which of the two arms is used for binding.

Although the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, in exceptionally rare cases the bacteria can cause invasive group A streptococci (iGAS)

Although the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, in exceptionally rare cases the bacteria can cause invasive group A streptococci (iGAS)

Strep A bacteria can cause a number of other infections, including impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat

Strep A bacteria can cause a number of other infections, including impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat

“But what we saw – and this is vital information – is that the two Y arms can recognize and attach to two different places on the same target protein.”

This comes after the UK Health Security Agency confirmed last week that another five children had died of Strep A – bringing the total to 24 since September.

The vast majority took place in England (21), followed by Wales (2) and Northern Ireland (1).

Although low, the number of children in Britain who have died from Strep A is higher than expected for this time of year.

Twenty-seven under-18s died of the virus during the last bad season in 2017/18.

Strep A bacteria can cause a variety of infections. Although the vast majority are relatively mild, in exceptionally rare cases the bacteria can cause invasive group A streptococci (iGAS).

Two of the most severe forms of this invasive disease are necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. Both can kill.

The data suggest that iGAS cases are already five times higher than last winter – which was unusually quiet.

A spike in iGAS cases typically occurs every three to four years, but social distancing during the Covid pandemic is thought to have stopped this cycle.

Some experts have suggested this has left some young people with reduced immunity to Strep A – with a large number of children never having encountered the bacteria in their lifetime.

High rates of other respiratory viruses — including flu, RSV and norovirus — can also put children at greater risk of co-infections with Strep A, leaving them more susceptible to serious illness, the World Health Organization said.

Last week, experts revealed that there were five times more penicillin prescriptions compared to the previous three weeks.

They said some forms of antibiotics could be placed on a ‘shortage protocol’ to allow pharmacists to offer worried parents alternatives, rather than forcing them to go to multiple pharmacies or return to the doctor for a new prescription.

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From the ‘bubbly’ seven-year-old whose father desperately tried CPR to save her, to the four-year-old who loved to explore: Strep A victims so far

Muhammad Ibrahim Ali

The four-year-old attended Oakridge School and Nursery in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

He died at home of cardiac arrest in mid-November after contracting a Strep A infection.

He was prescribed antibiotics.

His mother, Shabana Kousar, told the Bucks Free Press: ‘The loss is great and nothing is going to replace that.

‘He was very helpful around the house and quite adventurous, he loved exploring and he liked forest school, his best day was Monday and he said Monday was the best day of the week.

Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, who attended Oakridge School and Nursery in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, died after contracting the bacterial infection.

Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, who attended Oakridge School and Nursery in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, died after contracting the bacterial infection.

Hannah Roap

The ‘bubbly’ and ‘pretty’ seven-year-old is the only child to have died of Strep A in Wales so far.

Her devastated parents recounted how their ‘hearts broke into a million pieces’.

The first signs of the infection were mild. Hannah’s father, Abul, took his daughter to the doctor after a cough worsened overnight.

She was prescribed steroids and sent home, but died less than 12 hours later.

Roap recalled how he desperately tried to resuscitate his son: ‘She stopped breathing at 8 pm, but we didn’t notice right away because she was sleeping.

‘I did CPR, tried to revive her, but it didn’t work. Paramedics arrived and continued CPR, but it was too late.

Roap said the family was “utterly devastated” and awaiting responses from the hospital.

The family believes she could have survived if she had initially been given antibiotics.

Hanna Roap, who attended Victoria Primary School in Penarth, Wales, died after contracting Strep A last month.  Family says they are 'traumatised' by her death

Hanna Roap, who attended Victoria Primary School in Penarth, Wales, died after contracting Strep A last month. Family says they are ‘traumatized’ by her death

Stella-Lily McCorkindale

Five-year-old Stella-Lily McCokindale died after a Strep A infection, the first death from the infection in Northern Ireland.

She died on 5 December at the Royal Belfast Hospital.

In a tribute on social media, her father Robert said the two “loved every minute” of being together as they went on scooter and bike rides.

“If prayers, thoughts, feelings and love could have worked, she would have walked out of that hospital holding her father’s hand,” he said.

Stella-Lily attended Black Mountain Primary School who said she was “a bright and talented little girl” and described her death as a “tragic loss”.

Five-year-old Stella-Lily McCokindale, who attended Black Mountain Primary School in Belfast, died in early December after contracting Strep A

Five-year-old Stella-Lily McCokindale, who attended Black Mountain Primary School in Belfast, died in early December after contracting Strep A

Jax Albert Jefferys

A five-year-old boy who died of Strep A was misdiagnosed as having the flu, his family said.

Jax Albert Jefferys, of Waterlooville, Hampshire, died on 1 December.

His mother, Charlene, recounted how she sought medical advice three times during the four days leading up to Jax’s death and was told he was suffering from influenza A. She described Jax as a ‘cheeky boy’.

Later tests revealed that he indeed had Strep A.

Jax Albert Jefferys, a five-year-old boy from Waterlooville, Hampshire, died on 1 December from Strep A

Jax Albert Jefferys, a five-year-old boy from Waterlooville, Hampshire, died on , 1 December, from Strep A

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