Strep A: what are the symptoms and how can the infection be treated? | Health

A fourth child has died in the UK after contracting a Strep A infection, and health officials are warning parents and school staff to look out for signs and symptoms.

While most people who get it will not become extremely ill, the highly contagious bacteria that cause the infection can in some cases cause serious illness, health complications and death.

What is Strep A?

Strep A bacteria can cause many different infections. The bacterium is often found in the throat and on the skin, and many people have it without knowing it and are not harmed.

However, they can spread it to others who may become ill. People can catch it through close contact and from coughing and sneezing. Outbreaks can sometimes happen in places like schools.

Most health problems caused by Strep A are mild, but can range from minor illnesses to serious and fatal illnesses. They include the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.

What are the symptoms?

Sore throat is different from a normal sore throat and the pain can come on very quickly. Symptoms include pain when swallowing, fever and red and swollen tonsils – sometimes with white spots or streaks of pus.

The first signs of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature, sore throat and swollen neck glands.

A rash appears 12 to 48 hours later that starts on the chest and abdomen, then spreads. A white coating also appears on the tongue that peels, leaving the tongue red, swollen and covered in small balls, which are often called “strawberry tongue”.

Impetigo is a skin infection that starts with red sores or blisters that then burst and leave crusty, golden patches.

Very rarely, Strep A can cause serious illness when the bacteria enter parts of the body that are normally free of bacteria. This is called invasive group A streptococcal disease.

What is invasive group A streptococcal disease?

Invasive group A streptococci can become a life-threatening infection where the bacteria have invaded parts of the body such as the lungs, blood or muscles.

Two of the most serious but rare forms of invasive disease are necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.

Necrotizing fasciitis is also known as “flesh-eating disease” and can occur if a wound becomes infected. Signs of necrotizing fasciitis include fever – high temperature above 38C – severe pain and swelling and redness at the wound site.

Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome is a rapidly developing infection that causes low blood pressure or shock, and damage to organs such as the kidneys, liver and lungs. Early signs and symptoms of toxic shock may include fever, dizziness, confusion, rash, and abdominal pain.

How can strep A be treated?

Strep A infections such as scarlet fever and impetigo are treated with antibiotics. After a full 24 hours of treatment, people are generally assumed to be no longer contagious.

Anyone suspected of having invasive group A streptococcal disease should seek immediate medical attention. Antibiotics, other medications, and intensive medical care are likely to be needed.

Why is Strep A a problem now?

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has not responded to questions from the Guardian about what is behind the recent deaths, or whether there has been a particular increase in cases.

However, health experts say that since the easing of Covid restrictions in the UK, there has been more opportunity for other infections to spread. It is also understood that cases have increased in recent weeks.

Microbiologists believe that reduced mixing among children over the past two years may have caused a drop in population immunity which could lead to the UK experiencing an increase in infections, particularly among school-age children.

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