The potentially deadly streptococcal toxic shock syndrome is spreading at a record pace this year, NHK has reported © Getty Images/jarun011

Cases of streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS), a condition caused by a potentially deadly “flesh-eating” disease, are spreading at a record pace in Japan, public broadcaster NHK reported on Wednesday.

Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases has recorded about 801 cases of STSS this year, as of May 5. The figure is nearly three times higher than the infections recorded in the same period last year. In the first three months of this year alone Japan reported over 500 cases of STSS, data showed.

The syndrome, which has a fatality rate of up to 30%, happens when the infection spreads throughout the body. The bacterium has been dubbed ‘flesh-eating’ for causing necrosis of limbs and multiple organ failures, experts say. The symptoms caused by STSS include sore throat, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy. Clinicians warn that infections can occur via open wounds.

The virus mostly affects people in their thirties or older. In some cases, the disease can turn deadly, especially among elderly people, according to medics.

The cases in Japan are linked to a particular strain of group A Streptococcus called M1UK, medical experts say. This strain is considered highly transmissible and has been on the rise worldwide over the past few years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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In Japan cases of the disease are surging at a faster pace than they did last year, when the number of infected patients reached 941, which was the highest figure ever registered in the country, NHK reported.

In March, the surge in STSS cases reportedly led the North Korean football team to abruptly cancel a World Cup qualifier match in Japan, according to Reuters.

The disease is not a respiratory illness like pneumonia or Covid-19, so it is unlikely to lead to a pandemic situation, Hitoshi Honda, an infectious disease professor at Fujita Health University, told the outlet in March.

“This is a droplet infection,” Honda said. “Hand hygiene is extremely important for preventing invasive streptococcal infections.”

The reason for the skyrocketing spread of the infection is not clear, Japanese medical authorities say. But experts note that the number of strep throat cases has risen in Japan since anti-Covid measures were eased.