AUSTIN (KXAN) — After lower-than-normal levels throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous states have seen an increase in invasive group A strep — and Austin Public Health officials said the agency is on the lookout for any possible spikes locally.

Group A strep bacteria is a relatively common and mild illness responsible for conditions like strep throat and skin infections, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told KXAN. However, invasive group A strep (iGAS) can lead to more pronounced side effects, including sepsis, septic shock and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, they added.

Austin Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes added the severity of iGAS cases can manifest themselves in the form of impacts to patients’ nervous tissue and bloodstream. So far, Austin hasn’t exhibited any spikes seen in other places nationally.

Typically, iGAS infections peak seasonally between December and April. This season’s peak, however, began back in September, and cases haven’t decreased at the same rate as other seasonal infections.

“We have not yet seen cases of iGAS decrease to the same extent as cases have for respiratory viruses,” the spokesperson said.

Strep cases require “prompt antibiotic treatment” to prevent further complications, the spokesperson said, with specific IV-based antibiotics required for iGAS disease. With liquid amoxicillin shortages nationally, the CDC recommends alternative antibiotic options in order to treat children with strep.

Sometimes, iGAS cases can initially mirror conditions like the flu, Walkes said. However, while traditional strep cases begin with a fever and a sore throat, iGAS diagnoses can worsen as days pass instead of improving.

“When it becomes invasive, you may see things such as fever, chills, muscle aches, and just becoming more ill than you particularly see with that case of just strep,” she said.

Those with iGAS-like cases are advised to see their health care provider and undergo a health assessment. If confirmed with iGAS, patients are advised to stay home and isolate until their symptoms alleviate themselves.

“We are not seeing a lot of increases in cases here in Austin-Travis County. But if there were a trend and we’re seeing more cases, that would be something that would be brought to the attention of our disease surveillance team here.”

Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin Health Authority and Austin Public Health Medical Director

Similar to other illnesses, Walkes said good hand hygiene is critical to ensure you don’t contract or pass it along. Those who are immunocompromised are also advised to be mindful of their handwashing techniques and to monitor any possible conditions.

She added staying up to date on flu and shingles shots are also an extra step people can take to minimize the risk.

“[Strep can] get into cracks in the skin and cause problems with deep, invasive infections,” she said. “So those are two vaccinations that, if you haven’t had those, you should go ahead and get those to get that protection.”