What symptoms does streptococcal disease cause in children and how dangerous is it?


In this cold season, with the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, infections such as group A betahemolytic streptococci have begun to multiply. In England and Wales, six deaths have been recorded in just one week in children under the age of 10 years. Recognize the infection from the first signs!


Group A strep bacteria (Streptococcus pyogenes) are sometimes found in the throat or on the skin. Many carry it unknowingly, so without symptoms, but they can also spread it to others who may become ill. Following the deaths in the UK, it was found that there was no evidence to suggest that a new strain of strep A was circulating and the sharp increase in serious cases was most likely linked to the large number of bacteria circulating.

The most common diseases caused by group A streptococcal bacteria

Most often, group A strep infections cause mild illness, but they can range from minor illness to serious and fatal illness. These include pharyngitis, but also skin infections, such as impetigo or scarlet fever. Symptoms are mild: sore throat, fever, a skin rash, red and swollen tonsils, sometimes with white spots or streaks of pus.

The first signs of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature, a sore throat and swollen glands in the neck. A rash appears between 12 and 48 hours later, first on the chest and abdomen, then all over the body. A white coating also appears on the tongue which peels off, leaving the tongue red, swollen and covered with small bumps, similar in appearance to a strawberry.

Streptococcus A can also cause impetigo, a skin infection that manifests as red lesions or blisters that burst, leaving crusty golden spots.

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The infection can be treated with antithermics, vitamins, antibiotics recommended by the family doctor, possibly following a pharyngeal exudate or blood tests. It is possible that the treatment will last ten days.

In rare cases, strep A can cause a severe illness with high fever, severe muscle aches, pain in one part of the body, and unexplained vomiting or diarrhea. Once these symptoms appear, especially in children, it is necessary to urgently seek medical help.

Not only children are exposed to the risk of a streptococcal A infection

Strep A can spread through coughing, sneezing and skin-to-skin contact. Sometimes outbreaks can occur in schools, nurseries, kindergartens. The most exposed to the risk of infection are children, people over 65 years old, those who have HIV, suffer from diabetes, heart disease or cancer.

When does streptococcus A become dangerous?

Very rarely, strep A can cause an invasive group A strep infection that can be fatal. Two of the most severe conditions are necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.

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Invasive disease occurs when bacteria get past the body’s immune defenses. It can become a life-threatening infection as the bacteria invades the lungs, blood or muscles. This can happen in the case of chronic or cancer patients, who have to follow therapies and their immune system is affected. The signs of the disease are similar to the flu or Covid-19: fever over 38 ºC, muscle pain, unexplained vomiting or diarrhea. Urgent and early medical attention is essential.

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