What is strep A?

The strep A disease is making headlines as the United Kingdom reports deaths of children following their infections. Cases of scarlet fever are being reported within the UK, at a rate which is not normal for this time of year. Up until the 6th of December, seven children in England and one in Wales died due to complications caused by the strep A infections.

Strep A refers to bacteria that can lead to different infections that cause minor illnesses such as scarlet fever to more serious ailments like pneumonia. Most illnesses caused are mild and may include throat pain, sinus, skin and wound infections, fever and rashes. Bacteria would typically be in the blood and in rare cases can be fatal. 

The infection is common amongst both adults and children. It was classified as dangerous during the time where we had no access to antibiotics. Although most cases registered recently are not serious, it still needs to be treated to prevent it from spreading further and minimise complications. 

The most severe cases registered have brought about lung infections, flesh-eating diseases which destroy skin and muscle tissues and toxic shock which disable the body’s organs from functioning. This disease was more invasive and dangerous during the eighties. Although some cases have been registered, fears of an outbreak are premature.

Strep A spreads following contact with droplets from an individual who is infected. Typically, this is spread when infected people talk, cough or sneeze. If one touches the mouth, nose or eyes following contact with infected droplets, sickness is a possibility. Strep A infections typically thrive in environments where there is lack of access to hygiene with significant overcrowding. The disease is typically treated with antibiotics, namely penicillin or amoxicillin. 

When discussing those who are most at risk of getting ill with strep A, we have those who are aged between five to fifteen years. It is a rare disease for those who are under the age of three. Parents are also at risk, with those who are raising schoolchildren being the most susceptible. Exposure to someone infected with scarlet fever brings about the highest risk. Typically, when someone within a household has scarlet fever, other members residing there also get infected. Crowded settings are problematic, with examples including schools and day care centres. 

To mitigate against strep A infection, best hygiene practices such as handwashing and avoiding people with symptoms should be adopted and maintained.

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