Canadian physicians are raising alarm over increased cases of group A streptococcal (iGAS) infections. Strep A is usually treated with antibiotics, however, when bacteria enter the blood or deep tissue, people can develop more invasive, life-threatening conditions. This bacteria usually hits 2-3 weeks after you assume resolution from a viral infection. This is due to the significant reduction in the number and strength of immune cells after a long battle with a virus.
Introduction to Strep A Bacteria
Strep A bacteria, also known as Group A Streptococcus or GAS, is a type of bacterium that can cause a wide range of infections in humans. These infections can range from mild, such as strep throat, to severe, such as necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease. Strep A bacteria are transmitted through contact with an infected person or contaminated surface.
What is Strep A Bacteria?
Strep A bacteria are spherical, gram-positive bacteria that are commonly found in the human throat and skin. They are a part of the Streptococcus family of bacteria, which includes other well-known strains such as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Streptococcus pyogenes.
Types of Strep A Bacterial Infections
Strep A bacteria can cause a variety of infections, including:
Strep Throat: Strep throat is characterized by a sore throat, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. Strep throat is conventionally treated with antibiotics
Impetigo: Impetigo is a skin infection that is characterized by red sores on the skin that can break open and ooze fluid. Impetigo is also conventionally treated with antibiotics
Scarlet Fever: Scarlet fever is characterized by a rash that spreads across the body and is accompanied by a sore throat and fever. Scarlet fever is also conventionally treated with antibiotics
- Necrotizing Fasciitis: Necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating disease, is a rare but serious infection that is caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria. It is characterized by severe pain, swelling, and redness in the affected area. Necrotizing fasciitis is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment with antibiotics and surgery
Signs and Symptoms of Strep Infection
The signs and symptoms of a Strep A bacterial infection can vary depending on the type of infection. However, some common symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Redness or swelling at the site of infection
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle aches or joint pain
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention right away.
How is Strep Infection Diagnosed?
Strep A bacterial infections can be diagnosed through a physical exam and laboratory tests. Your doctor may perform a throat swab or blood test to confirm the presence of Strep A bacteria.
How Long Does Strep A Live on Surfaces?
Strep A bacteria can survive on surfaces for up to three days. This means that if an infected person coughs or sneezes on a surface, such as a doorknob or phone, the bacteria can remain active for up to three days and infect anyone who touches the surface.
To prevent the spread of Strep A bacteria, it is important to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands regularly and avoiding contact with infected individuals or surfaces.
Strep A Outbreaks and Statistics in Canada
During the COVID-19 pandemic, severe infections caused by group A Streptococcus (group A strep) bacteria decreased compared to the years right before the pandemic. These severe infections were especially low in children.
This was likely due to the steps many people took during the pandemic to prevent the spread of respiratory diseases (school and workplace closures, masking, physical distancing).
Recently in Quebec, cases of iGAS infections spiked 56 per cent compared to the pre-pandemic average for the same time period. A total of 327 cases were reported between the end of August 2022 and Feb. 11, 2023, compared to an average of 223 for the same period between 2015 and 2019, before widespread public health measures were implemented for COVID-19.
The latest available Ontario data showed this has been a challenging strep season in that province as well, with more than 500 cases reported by the end of February and a higher incidence rate across all age groups than during the same period in the last five years before COVID-19 hit.
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) reported a rise in country-wide iGAS cases last November among children under 15, compared to pre-pandemic — though the cases have since returned to typical levels.
Prevention and Treatment of Strep A Infection
Preventing Strep A infection involves practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands regularly and avoiding contact with infected individuals or surfaces. If you do become infected with Strep A bacteria, treatment usually involves a course of antibiotics.
If you are prescribed antibiotics it is important to finish the entire course, even if you start feeling better before the course is finished. This will help prevent the infection from returning and reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance.
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