There’s been a lot of media coverage recently about Strep A infections around the UK. Our pharmacist Duncan Reid outlines what you need to know about infections caused by Strep A bacteria, what symptoms to look out for, and how and when to seek urgent medical advice.
What is Strep A?
Streptococcus A (Strep A) are a common group of bacteria that live on the skin or in the throat. These bacteria can sometimes cause minor infections such as a sore throat (strep throat or tonsillitis) and scabs and sores (impetigo). These infections are usually mild but are very easily spread – they are highly contagious. Strep A bacteria can cause scarlet fever which mainly affects young children. Scarlet fever can be treated with antibiotics that will manage the infection and reduce the risk of complications.
When is Strep A more serious?
In rare instances, the bacteria can enter parts of the body such as the lungs or blood. This is called an invasive Streptococcal disease (sometimes called iGAS) and can lead to more severe illnesses including pneumonia and sepsis.
What are the symptoms?
Each type of Strep A infection will have its own set of symptoms. Impetigo (a skin infection) for example will start as a red, itchy blister or sore on the skin. It typically develops as light-brownish patches across the skin as the blisters burst and start to scab over. For skin infections caused by Strep A, your GP may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or cream.
Strep throat has symptoms including a sore, inflamed throat that can make swallowing painful. It can sometimes cause small red spots to appear on the roof of the mouth. Strep throat may need antibiotics if symptoms persist after seven days, and over-the-counter medicines haven’t treated it.
Scarlet fever symptoms to look out for include flu-like symptoms such as a raised temperature, sore throat, and swollen glands. These symptoms can be followed by “strawberry tongue” (small, raised bumps and a swollen tongue that make it look like the surface of a strawberry) and a body rash that is rough like sandpaper to touch.
Symptoms of invasive Strep A infections include a temperature above 38°C (high fever) and severe muscle aches. In children, look out for signs of dehydration such as not going to the toilet as often, eating less than usual, being unusually tired or irritable or feeling sweaty.
How can I help to prevent Strep A infection?
Regular handwashing with an antibacterial soap can help reduce the risk of picking up or spreading a Strep A infection. If you start to feel poorly or your child becomes ill, you can help reduce the spread of infection by staying at home and getting plenty of rest. For some Strep A infections, over-the-counter products such as lozenges and cold & flu remedies can help ease your symptoms while you recover.
What should I do if I think my child has a Strep A infection?
If you think your child could have a Strep A infection, keep an eye on their symptoms and seek medical advice if you’re worried that they’re getting worse. You can contact your GP or call 111 for advice on what to do next. The NHS is keeping their Strep A information hub regularly updated. This includes when to call 999 or take your child to A&E.