Group A Streptococcus
Group A Streptococcus, also called group A strep, is a bacterium that can cause many different infections. These may cause sepsis. Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Sepsis kills and disables millions and requires early suspicion and treatment for survival.
Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.
Infections caused by group A strep
Group A bacteria cause several types of infections, most commonly:
- Strep throat
- Scarlet fever
- Necrotizing fasciitis
- Otitis media (ear infections)
- Toxic shock syndrome
How group A strep is spread
Group A strep bacteria live in your nose and throat, so they are spread through droplets that become airborne from coughing or sneezing or by direct contact with the mucus. You might breathe droplets in if you’re close enough when an infected person coughs or sneezes. As well, the droplets may land on a solid object that you touch later. This type of contact may also occur if people who are infected blow their nose and touch an object before washing their hands. Either way, if the bacteria are transferred to your hand or fingers and you put your hand to your face, you can become infected.
If the skin is infected, as with cellulitis or impetigo, the bacteria must come in contact with a spot of skin that had an open area, such as a cut, scrape, or bite. The opening may be so tiny that you didn’t notice anything beforehand. Impetigo is common among young children as they share toys and play together.
Invasive group A strep disease
While it’s common for group A strep to exist in your throat and nose, and on your skin, it is not common inside your body. When these bacteria enter your body, they can cause infections such as necrotizing fasciitis (often called “flesh eating disease”) and toxic shock syndrome. These are called invasive group A strep infections.
The symptoms of a group A strep infection depend on what part of the body is infected but the common symptoms include pain in the affected area, redness, and swelling. If the infection progresses or is a systemic infection, such as scarlet fever or toxic shock syndrome, you would develop fever, muscle aches, and flu-like symptoms.
Treatment for the infections include appropriate antibiotics. Sepsis caused by group A strep should be treated urgently with both antibiotics and IV fluids. For people with necrotizing fasciitis, surgery may likely be needed to remove the affected tissue.
If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.”
The information here is also available as a Sepsis Information Guide, which is a downloadable format for easier printing.
Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has group A strep information for the public.
Updated August 30, 2020.