A total of 50 cases of invasive Group B Streptococcus (GBS) was reported by public hospitals in July, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH) medical services director Kenneth Mak.
Although 50 might not seem like a large amount, it’s twice the average monthly figure of 25 from earlier this year.
What Is GBS Infection?
So what exactly is this GBS infection?
GBS is actually a common bacterium found in the intestines or lower genital tract. Although it is usually harmless, it can occasionally cause serious infections in adults and symptoms include fever, chills and low alertness.
Adults are at an increased risk of a GBS infection if they have a medical condition that impairs their immune system, like diabetes, HIV infection, cancer or liver disease.
GBS is also a common cause of severe infection in newborn babies.
Some Current Cases Similar to An Outbreak Back In 2015
Some of the cases in the current spike are similar to a 2015 outbreak that caused many patients to fall ill after eating raw freshwater fish.
Out of the 50 cases reported in July, 18 of them were infected by GBS Type III ST283, and the profiles of these patients are also similar to those who got affected by the outbreak in 2015.
All of them were Chinese, and most were above 65 years old. They also developed septicaemia or bacteraemia, which is more commonly known as blood poisoning.
“All medical practitioners are requested to remain vigilant and to refer all patients with symptoms suggestive of severe GBS to a hospital for assessment,” said Associate Professor Mak in a circular to doctors, as reported by The Straits Times.
So far, most of the patients have been discharged and one died from an unrelated cause.
After the GBS outbreak in 2015, the National Environment Agency banned the sale of ready-to-eat raw freshwater fish in retail food places.
They even identified two types of fish that carried ST283: the Toman fish and Song fish. Both are usually used by food stalls selling Chinese-style raw fish dishes.
However, it is unclear if the outbreak in July this year is linked to eating raw freshwater fish or not.
Similar Symptoms to COVID-19
Since it is not so commonly known, doctors said that this disease could also be easily misdiagnosed as Covid-19 or dengue fever, since the symptoms are similar.
“You don’t want to put a strain on the existing system, already laden with Covid-19 and dengue… It confuses the picture,” said Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.
He also added that he has seen at least three GBS cases in recent weeks and that the number of infections is worrying because milder cases might still be unidentified.
The best way to keep yourself safe from this disease is to ensure that you maintain good hygiene in food preparation and consumption.
Doctors advise consumers to wash their hands and to avoid cross-contaminating cooked and uncooked food.
As Dr Leong said, “If we don’t clean food with GBS, we end up as food for the GBS.”
Meanwhile, MOH has extended free Covid-19 testing to community workers like taxi drivers and delivery food riders.