Group A Strep & Scarlet Fever

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You may have seen in the news and online stories about Group A Strep.

Group A Streptococcus is the name given to a type of bacteria sometimes found in the throat or on the skin. Group A Streptococcus usually causes mild illness like sore throats and skin infections. Rarely these bacteria can cause severe and life threatening illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease.

Many people carry Group A Strep harmlessly and do not develop illness. It can be passed from person to person by close contact such as kissing or skin contact. Most people who come into contact with Group A Strep remain well and symptom free, some get mild throat or skin infections. Contracting invasive disease from a relative or household member is very rare. You can reduce the risk of picking up Group A Strep by always washing your hands thoroughly. Pregnant women or those having gynaecology treatments are advised to wash their hands before and after going to the toilet. It is also important to dispose of tissues after use and to wash your hands when you have a cough or cold.

Group A Strep can cause throat infection, scarlet fever or skin infections such as cellulitis or impetigo. These infections are usually treated with antibiotics. Very rarely it can cause severe illness when the bacteria get into parts of the body that are usually free from bacteria such as the lungs, blood or muscles. This is called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease. Invasive disease happens when the bacteria get past your body’s immune defences. This can happen when you are already ill or are on treatments, such as some cancer treatments, that affect your immune system. Two of the most severe types of invasive disease are necrotising fasciitis and toxic shock syndrome.

Am I at any increased risk of invasive disease?
Those at an increased risk of invasive Group A Streptococcal disease include people

  • are in close contact with someone who has the disease
  • are over the age of 65
  • are diabetic, have heart disease or cancer
  • have recently had chickenpox
  • have HIV
  • use some steroids or other intravenous drugs.

What are the signs of invasive disease?
The symptoms can include:

  • fever (a high temperature above 38°C (100.4°F))
  • severe muscle aches
  • localised muscle tenderness
  • redness at the site of a wound.

You should contact your GP or get medical advice straight away if you think you have any of the signs and symptoms of invasive disease. Tell your doctor if you have been in contact with someone who has had Group A Strep recently. Your GP will most likely ask you to come into the surgery to be examined.

NHS 111 Online:

Telephone: 111 (when it is less urgent than 999)
Calls to this number are free from landlines and mobile phones or via the website at NHS 111 Online