NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The new flu map is out, and Tennessee has not budged. The state is still in the top purple tier for flu. Doctors believe that these flu cases could be causing a deadly type of strep throat, too, called invasive strep.

Sadly, 15 kids in the U.K. and two children in Colorado have died from invasive strep. We want to show parents what to look out for.

“If they have a fever, they’ve got a sore throat, muscle aches and chills, then you start to worry, it could be the flu, or it could be the start of an invasive group — a strep infection,” said Dr. Joseph Gigante, a professor of pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Dr. Gigante says that your run-of-the-mill strep throat is not very contagious and is often successfully treated with antibiotics. But, if that bacteria is not treated early, it could make its way into the bloodstream, and lead to toxic shock syndrome or pneumonia in children.

“If your child is breathing faster, breathing harder, they’re starting to have contractions, which is when the skin between their ribs gets sucked in, that would be a sign potentially that they have pneumonia,” said Dr. Gigante.

Invasive strep typically hits the elderly and those with underlying diseases, not children. But not this year. 

Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease professor with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, believes that the viruses from the flu, RSV or COVID can attack the mucus membranes in a child’s throat, nose or airway, inflaming them, which allows bacteria from strep throat to more easily enter the bloodstream as invasive strep.

“This strep can get out of the throat and into the bloodstream and cause a much more serious infection that can involve a number of different organ systems,” said Dr. Schaffner. “It’s as though the viral infection opens the door for the strep infection to get in and cause its damage.”

Over-the-counter antibiotics won’t be able to clear up invasive strep; the child will have to go to the hospital. Doctors say that the key to preventing this is to act early.

“Please, contact your healthcare provider right away. We have treatments. But in order for them to be maximally effective, of course, they have to be given early. We have antibiotics and good supportive care.”

Doctors say that in general, strep throat, because it’s caused by bacteria, is not nearly as contagious as the flu, RSV or COVID, which are caused by viruses.