We’re seeing an increase in the coverage of Strep A infections by the media this winter, with medical professionals observing higher rates than usual for the time of year.
Strep A is a common bacterial infection that can cause a range of symptoms, from mild to severe. It is important to understand the cause, symptoms, and treatments available for Strep A in order to make sure you get the best care for you or your family and friends.
Although a lot of the media attention in recent months has been focused on the sad loss of children or children with serious infection, Strep A can strike at any age. Those with a low immune system could be more prone to strep A infections. However, healthy people with no pre-known conditions can become infected and suffer serious disease as a result.
We’ve decided to write a fresh article in light of recent infection rates in order to help spread education about Strep A, how it’s transmitted, treatment and how to help stop the spread.
What is Strep A?
Strep A is a type of bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus pyogenes. It is the most common cause of bacterial infections in children and can cause a range of symptoms, from mild to severe. It is easily treatable but in a small number of cases it can develop into something more serious and potentially life threatening, so it’s good to have a basic understanding of this bacteria.
Strep A typically lives on the skin and in the throat and some people may carry the bacteria without even realising.
The most common form of Strep A infection is Strep throat. This is easily spread through water droplets expelled through coughing or sharing a cup or spoon.
Strep A on the skin
Strep A can live on human skin and enter the body through breaks in the skin, causing infections such as impetigo. Even small breaks in the skin, such as an insect bite or a graze, could be enough to cause an infection.
Symptoms of Strep A
Strep A can cause a range of symptoms. The NHS list these common symptoms:
- flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, swollen glands or an aching body
- sore throat (strep throat or tonsillitis)
- a rash that feels rough, like sandpaper (scarlet fever)
- scabs and sores (impetigo)
- pain and swelling (cellulitis)
- severe muscle aches
- nausea and vomiting
As you can see Strep A is the cause of a range of conditions, namely:
- Strep throat
- Tonsillitis, which can also be caused by a viral infection
- Scarlet fever, which we wrote an article on in December due to the increased infection rate in children
In severe cases it can also lead to invasive group A streptococcal disease (iGAS). Necrotising Fasciitis is a condition that can stem from a iGAS when the infection spreads to the deeper tissues of the body. If you’d like to find out more about Strep A infections, iGAS and its complications you can do so in our section about necrotising Fasciitis related infections.
Strep A throat symptoms
Strep throat symptoms include a sore throat and other cold or flu-like symptoms. It is important to stay home if you suspect strep throat in order to avoid spreading it to others as it is highly infectious. Strep throat can also lead to other conditions, such as tonsilitis or scarlet fever, although these are less common.
Treatments for Strep A
We’ve all probably had a Strep A infection at one time or another in our lives. Many people are able to fight off the infection themselves. If you feel unwell and have been exposed to someone else with a strep A infection, it’s a good idea to stay home (prevention is the best treatment in this case).
Treatment for Strep A typically includes antibiotics, such as penicillin. Anti-biotics are useful for fighting both skin infections and conditions such as tonsilitis and scarlet fever. Over-the-counter medications can also help reduce fever and pain. It is important to finish the entire course of antibiotics even if symptoms improve, as this will help prevent the infection from coming back.
Treatment of strep throat
For strep throat, over the counter medicines, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help make you more comfortable and reduce any fever, and throat lozenges can help with the sore throat. It’s important to stay hydrated and get the rest your body needs to help fight the infection. Many people will fight off this infection themselves in a few days.
If you have a cough or runny nose with a sore throat it is more likely that you have a viral infection, which does not require antibiotics.
It is possible to do a Strep A throat swap to test for Strep A. If you do have strep A and do not take antibiotics you could remain contagious.
It is important to identify and treat strep A appropriately as it can lead to other conditions such as rheumatic fever in very uncommon instances.
Treatments for more serious infection
If symptoms persist or get worse once a course of antibiotics has been started it is important to seek further medical assistance. You can do this by calling your GP, dialling 111 for emergency medical advise 24 hours a day or going to your local A&E (or by calling 999 for an Ambulance).
Invasive infections what to look out for
It is important to know when to get more help – here’s what to look out for:
- Fever or hot to the touch
- Feeling worse than you’ve ever felt before
- Disoriented, confused or drowsy
- nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
What to do if your child is unwell
It can be more difficult to spot symptoms in children the NHS recommend calling 111 or speaking to your GP immediately if:
- your child is unwell and is getting worse
- your child is feeding or eating much less than normal
- your child has fewer wet nappies than usual or is peeing less than usual, or shows other signs of dehydration
- your baby is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38C, or is 3 to 6 months and has a temperature of 39C or higher
- your child is very tired or irritable
You should call 999 or got to A&E immediately if you child:
- your child is having difficulty breathing – they may make grunting noises, or you may notice their tummy sucking under their ribs
- there are pauses when your child breathes
- your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue or grey – on black or brown skin this may be easier to see on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
- your child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake
How to prevent strep A infections
Strep A is highly contagious and some people carry the infection without showing any symptoms, so it’s important to ensure good hygiene practices, which we should all be used to by now.
- wash your hands often with soap and water
- cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
- bin used tissues as quickly as possible
Avoid close contact with anyone with strep A and if you have been (or suspect you have been) close to someone with a strep A infection and begin to feel unwell it is best to stay at home to avoid the spread.
In some severe cases it may be necessary for people you are close to to also have antibiotics in case they are carriers of the bacteria and to help prevent relapses and reinfection.
Strep A is a common bacterial infection that can cause a range of symptoms, from mild to severe. Understanding the cause, symptoms, and treatment options available for Strep A is key to making sure you get the best care possible.
It is important to see a doctor if you experience any of the symptoms of Strep A, as early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the severity of symptoms and prevent any serious complications. Additionally, good hygiene practices, such as washing your hands regularly, can help reduce the risk of spreading the infection.