As the first sight of pollen hits your car windshield, this community is still being plagued by respiratory infections such as influenza, RSV, COVID-19 and the common cold. Unfortunately, you can add strep to your list of respiratory infections that are going around.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been an increase in pediatric cases of invasive Group A strep infections (iGAS) across the United States, which refers to a disease that can occur after being infected with the bacteria called Group A streptococcus.
This increase in strep A infections among children ages five to 15 is occurring amidst a rise in respiratory viruses, including RSV, influenza and COVID-19.
How is it contracted?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, group A strep infection cases were low due to masking and social distancing. However, with social distancing measures easing up, pediatrician offices are seeing an uptick in children with iGAS infections.
“There are numerous strains of the strep germ, but the one we commonly worry about causing strep throat is Group A strep,” said Randolph “Randy” Thornton, MD, a pediatrician on the medical staff of Wolfson Children’s Hospital. “Group A streptococci are the bacteria that cause multiple infections such as scarlet fever and skin infections like impetigo (red sores that form around the mouth and nose) and abscesses (painful, swollen lumps filled with pus).”
However, invasive infections refer to more severe cases in which the bacteria spread to other areas of the body that are normally germ-free, like the bloodstream.
“Group A strep has always been a risk for causing rheumatic fever (inflammation of the heart, blood vessels and joins) but we’re seeing an increase in more serious cases,” said Dr. Thornton. “This includes potentially life-threatening cases of bloodstream infections and the dreaded flesh-eating bacteria cases known as necrotizing fasciitis.”
While Group A strep is typically a common infection that can be easily treated, the increase in invasive forms of strep can be fatal, in extreme cases.
The bacteria often live in the nose and throat and can be spread through direct contact from person to person, including talking, coughing or sneezing. This creates respiratory droplets that contain the bacteria, ultimately infecting one another.
Individuals are infected when they breathe in the droplets, touch something with the droplets on it and then touch their mouths or noses, or when they eat or drink from the same plate as an infected person.
It takes roughly two to five days for someone exposed to group A strep bacteria to become ill with strep throat. Luckily, the number of invasive group A strep infections among children remains low.
No pep in this st(r)ep
Typically, kids who develop serious strep A infections start with a viral respiratory infection – often starting as a mild sore throat or skin infection.
In some instances, this can lead to a condition called scarlet fever, which affects elementary school kids and is characterized by a sore throat, high fever and rough skin rash. In rare cases, leading to a more serious group A strep infection.
Other diseases caused by Group A strep include:
Necrotizing fasciitis (commonly known as "flesh-eating disease")
Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome
Lower airway infections (pneumonia)
Strep throat is considered a mild infection, but it can be very painful. Common symptoms of strep throat include:
- Sore throat
- Pain when swallowing
- Red or swollen tonsils
- Swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck
Additionally, other symptoms may include a headache, stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting – common in children.
“Strep is best treated with antibiotics such as amoxicillin,” said Dr. Thornton. “The more invasive cases will require hospitalization and IV antibiotics.”
Risk of getting strep throat
While anyone is susceptible to contracting step, there are a few factors, like age and group settings, that can increase one’s risk of being infected. Strep throat is more commonly diagnosed in children than it is in adults, with the common age range being five through 15 years old, according to the CDC.
However, adults are at a higher risk for contracting strep throat if they are parents of school-aged children, or if they are in close contact with kids including daycare centers or schools.
Protect yourself and others
While there is no vaccine to prevent strep throat, there are things that people can do to protect themselves and others.
Reducing your risk of strep or any other illnesses always starts with washing your hands frequently, to help prevent germs from spreading after coughing or sneezing, as well as the use of hand sanitizers.
Additionally, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze or disposing of your tissues in a wastebasket can help reduce the risk of spreading.
The best way to reduce a child’s risk of contracting strep is to use the tried-and-true methods that physicians and parents have preached for generations, said Dr. Thornton. “Good hygiene, proper nutrition, a full and restful night of sleep and regular exercise will keep the immune system in tiptop form.”
If your child is experiencing cold- or flu-like symptoms, call your pediatrician or request an appointment online. If your child is experiencing more serious symptoms, including those of Group A strep, take him or her to the nearest Children’s Emergency Center or call 911.