January 20, 2023
By Nomi Health on February 16, 2023
Strep throat is once again making the rounds. Luckily, what seemed like a steep surge in December has now been deemed as just regular pre-pandemic levels of illness. The CDC wrote that "based on preliminary 2022 data, iGAS infections in children have returned to levels similar to those seen in pre-pandemic years.” And while that might sound kind of comforting, getting sick and experiencing strep throat isn’t fun.
Strep, also known as Streptococcus, can be an uncomfortable infection and cause a swollen throat and often a fever. However, strep throat isn’t the only infection caused by these bacteria. When treating infections, the more you know, the easier it is to reach a diagnosis and get the antibiotics you need to help.
Group A strep is probably the type of strep you are most familiar with because it causes very symptomatic infections, such as the common strep throat or impetigo. Symptoms of strep can vary. We’ll talk about the most common infections if you have Group A strep.
Strep throat commonly involves swollen tonsils that bring on throat pain and difficulty swallowing. Your tonsils are usually red with white patches accompanied by red dots on the back of the roof of your mouth. It’s also normal to have a headache and fever with strep throat.
Scarlet fever has a lot of the same symptoms as strep throat, with the addition of some other unfortunate side effects. Symptoms can include a red and bumpy tongue, a whitish coating on the tongue earlier on, and a bright red skin rash in folds of the skin, such as the armpit, elbow, and groin, that later spreads across the body. Although anyone can get scarlet fever, it is most common in children between the ages of 5-15.
Impetigo can be caused by both strep bacteria as well as staph bacteria, although we will only focus on the strep bacteria in this article. Symptoms will start with red sores that will leak clear fluid or pus. Then a yellow scab forms, which then heals. Young children, people living in large groups, like daycares or military training centers, or those who live in warm climates are most at risk.
Necrotizing Fasciitis, or the “flesh-eating disease,” is rare but dangerous. It is spread through open wounds or breaks in the skin and is life-threatening. If you experience a red, warm, or swollen area of skin that spreads quickly or severe pain beyond the skin that is red, warm, or swollen, see a doctor right away as quick treatment is crucial.
Although dangerous, STSS is rare. This infection is when strep bacteria get deep into deep muscles and tissues and gets into the bloodstream. STSS starts with muscle aches, fever and chills, and nausea. It then leads to low blood pressure, a faster heart rate, quick breathing, and signs that organs are starting to not work, like no urination, bruises, and yellow skin. If you start to experience any of these later symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Rheumatic fever comes if other strep infections are not treated properly. Symptoms of rheumatic fever include fever, painful joints, jerky body movements, fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, and a fast heart rate. Rheumatic fever usually only affects children, but is very serious. It’s important to get medical treatment to not have long-term effects on the heart.
PSGN is a rare complication that can occur after getting a strep infection. It’s a strep infection of the kidneys. It is thought to be an immune response to an earlier infection. Symptoms include symptoms you would commonly see with kidney problems, such as dark urine, high blood pressure, fatigue, and edema. PSGN is more common in children.
B Streptococcus is a bacteria that already lives in your body in your gastrointestinal and genital tracts. This bacteria is not always harmful and usually does not give people many symptoms. Doctors don’t always know how strep B is spread, apart from mothers spreading it to their babies during delivery.
If Group B Strep does become a problem, it usually manifests itself as bacteremia, sepsis, meningitis, pneumonia, bone infections, UTIs, and soft tissue infections.
Adults are technically at risk, but it is more common for newborns to experience infections like meningitis, pneumonia, sepsis, and bacteremia. To prevent complications, doctors can give pregnant women and their babies antibiotics when the baby is born. Adults can be at risk if they already live with health complications such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or obesity.
Strep comes in many forms. The best ways to protect yourself and your family are to wash your hands regularly, avoid people who are sick (and stay home if you are sick yourself), cover your mouth when coughing, and refrain from sharing items like utensils or cups. Although there are some rare dangerous complications, strep infections can often easily be treated through common antibiotics prescribed by your doctor.