In late 2022 and early 2023, cases of Step A were on the rise across multiple countries. In December 2022, the World Health Organization reported that several European countries were experiencing increased cases of invasive group A streptococcus disease. France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom were among the affected countries.
Similarly in March 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that Strep A cases remained higher than normal in some US states.
In this article, we are going to outline everything you need to know about Strep A – and we’ll highlight whether or not we’re still at risk.
Table of Contents
What Is Strep A?
The official name for Strep A is Group A streptococcus (GAS). It is a bacterium usually found in the throat or on the skin. It is common in both children and adults and can cause a series of treatable illnesses and diseases including tonsillitis, pharyngitis, impetigo, and scarlet fever. Most of these illnesses can be treated at home or with antibiotics from the GP.
Unfortunately, Strep A is more prevalent in children under 10 years old. In rare cases, Strep A can lead to Invasive Group A Streptococcal (iGAS), which can cause life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia and sepsis.
In some serious cases of Invasive Group A Streptococcus, the bacteria can become present in parts of the body it is not usually found in, such as the bloodstream or lungs. If an individual has a compromised immune system, they are more susceptible to Invasive Group A Strep. Although it is rare, Invasive Group A Streptococcus can be fatal.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Strep A?
According to NHS UK, the common symptoms of Group A Streptococcus include:
- Common flu-like symptoms, such as a persistent high temperature, an aching body, fatigue and/or swollen glands
- Sore throat (often referred to as strep throat)
- Tonsilitis i.e., red swollen tonsils, white/yellow patches on tonsils, difficulty swallowing, and tender lymph nodes in the neck
- A skin rash of small, raised bumps that feel rough, like sandpaper (scarlet fever)
- Scabs and sores on the skin that can be itchy and painful (impetigo)
- Pain and swelling (cellulitis)
- Severe muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
How Is Strep A Treated?
Doctors will often diagnose Group A Streptococcus based on symptoms alone. However, rapid Strep A tests are available and can accurately determine whether or not Strep A is present in the throat.
For children and adults with mild Step A infections (and mild symptoms), such as high temperature, sore throat, aching body and swollen glands, a visit to the GP may not be necessary. Instead, mild cases can be treated at home with store-bought paracetamol or ibuprofen, plenty of fluids and rest.
Other, more serious Strep A infections, such as Impetigo and Scarlet Fever will require a course of antibiotics to clear the infection. Anyone with a suspected or confirmed case of Strep A should stay away from nursery, school or work for at least 24 hours after starting a course of antibiotics.
For children and adults with suspected Invasive Group A Streptococcus, treatment will involve admission to a hospital for antibiotics and observations.
Is Strep A Still A Threat?
Unfortunately, Strep A cases remain high when compared to previous years. In states across the US, and several European countries including the United Kingdom, national statistics demonstrate a continued high level of cases.
Although cases usually peak between December and April, statistics show that cases are becoming increasingly popular as early as September.
In the UK, parents are being advised to look out for signs and symptoms of Strep A in their children, particularly in children younger than 10 years of age.
How To Prevent Strep A
Like most bacterium infections, Strep A can be easily spread from person to person. To prevent it, good hygiene is key. Regularly washing your hands and using hand sanitizer can help protect you against Strep A.
Plus, it is crucial to always cover your nose and mouth when sneezing/coughing and to dispose of used tissues promptly. If you think you may have signs and symptoms of Strep A, avoid close contact with other people for at least 24 hours.