Brussels, 16 Oct 2002
An EU project involving 11 European laboratories is to study Group A streptococci (GAS) infections, also known as 'killer bacteria' due to the speed at which they can develop.
Universities, government institutes for infectious diseases and a private laboratory will take part in the study, under the coordination of researchers from Lund University in Sweden. The three year project will receive 1.2 million euro under the quality of life section of the Fifth Framework Programme.
The most effective defence against GAS infection has been antibiotics, but there has been a worrying rise of cases in recent years. Professor Claes Schalen, overall coordinator for the project, says: 'Since the late 1980s we have seen serious GAS infections increase all over Europe. In Sweden we now have 300 to 500 cases per year. We are not certain about the cause of these infections. One possible explanation is that the population used to have a certain degree of immunity against these bacteria.'
GAS infections often appear as tonsillitis or impetigo, but can also enter the body in other ways, such as via sores. Once the disease enters the blood stream, its course can be rapid, especially if it subsequently makes its way into muscle tissue. Individuals can be carriers of GAS without becoming sick themselves, while others can contract life threatening infections from a tiny sore.
The Lund institute has a strong reputation in the field of GAS research, and academics there have developed new methods based on DNA analysis to characterise the bacteria and its functions. One of the team, Aftab Jasir, explains that 'The EU study will allow us to monitor the scope of serious GAS diseases, how these infections are spread, and how they arise. Hopefully, the results will also provide knowledge of use in the development of vaccines against GAS.'
The project got underway in September, and at a time of the year when serious infections are particularly prevalent, participants will initially focus on the collection of GAS samples for the study.