What is group A streptococcal disease?
Group A streptococcal disease (GAS) is caused by bacteria that are sometimes found on the skin and in people’s noses and throats. People may have the bacteria in the throat or on the skin and have no symptoms of illness. Most GAS infections are relatively mild, however some can be severe or even life threatening. Milder forms of infection can include:
Two of the most severe (invasive) forms of GAS disease are necrotizing fasciitis, also known as “flesh eating disease” and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS).
- Flesh eating disease is rare and usually comes from a wound infection. For example, if you get a cut, bacteria can go beyond the skin and produce a toxin or poison that rapidly destroys muscle, fat, and skin tissue.
- Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome causes blood pressure to drop quickly and organs to fail.
Invasive GAS disease is a reportable disease in Ontario.
What are the symptoms of group A streptococcal disease?
The symptoms of the illness depend on the site of infection. For example, strep throat or tonsillitis may cause a very sore throat, trouble swallowing, fever and swollen glands in the neck.
A skin infection such as impetigo causes a rash that starts out like a cluster of red bumps or blisters that eventually ooze or are covered in a honey-coloured crust.
An ear infection typically causes the ear to ache.
The more serious forms of infection can cause severe symptoms that can be life threatening.
You should see a health care provider if the illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is group A streptococcal disease spread?
The germs are spread through direct contact with a person who is sick during activities such as kissing, sharing personal items that come into contact with saliva such as eating utensils or drinking glasses, or touching infected cuts or sores. When a person is sick with strep throat or has a wound infection, it is easier to spread the bacteria to other people. Few people who come in contact with GAS will develop severe disease.
How is group A streptococcal disease treated?
It is usually treated with antibiotics. It is important to finish all of the antibiotics prescribed to you, even if you are feeling better.
You can treat mild symptoms at home. Learn more about treating streptococcal infections at home.
How is group A streptococcal disease prevented?
- People suffering from a sore throat that does not clear up on its own should see a health care provider.
- Keep all wounds clean.
- Watch for signs of infection like redness, swelling, oozing, and pain at the site. See a health care provider if a fever develops.
- Simple preventative measures can reduce the spread of infection.