Understanding Strep A

 This bacterium naturally resides in the throat and can also be found on the skin of some individuals.


By being knowledgeable about Strep A, parents can take appropriate measures to protect their children's well-being. This includes recognizing the symptoms, seeking timely medical attention, and implementing preventive strategies to reduce the risk of infection and its complications.

What is it?

Strep A is a highly contagious bacterial infection that often affects school-aged children. Strep A is also known as Streptococcus pyogenes, is a type of bacteria that can cause an infection in the body. It is highly contagious, which means it can easily spread from person to person. Strep A commonly affects children who are of school age, although it can also occur in people of other age groups.

Strep A, or Streptococcus pyogenes, is a specific bacterium that is responsible for causing the infection. This bacterium naturally resides in the throat and can also be found on the skin of some individuals. When a person becomes infected with Strep A, the bacteria can multiply and cause illness.

The spread of Strep A occurs through direct contact with respiratory droplets from infected individuals. This typically happens when an infected person coughs or sneezes, releasing tiny droplets containing the bacteria into the air. If someone else breathes in these infected droplets or comes into direct contact with them, they can become infected as well.

Additionally, Strep A can also spread indirectly by touching contaminated surfaces. When an infected person touches their mouth or nose and then touches objects or surfaces, they can leave behind bacteria. If someone else touches those contaminated surfaces and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes, they may introduce the bacteria into their own system, leading to an infection.

It's worth noting that not everyone who carries the Streptococcus pyogenes bacterium will develop an infection or show symptoms. Some individuals may be carriers without exhibiting any signs of illness. However, they can still transmit the bacteria to others and contribute to the spread of the infection.



Strep A infection can present with various symptoms, and it's important for parents to recognize these signs in order to distinguish it from other similar conditions. Here are some common symptoms associated with Strep A:

  • Sore throat: A sore throat is often one of the initial symptoms of Strep A. It may be accompanied by pain or discomfort while swallowing. The throat may appear red and inflamed upon examination.
  • Difficulty swallowing: Strep A infection can cause difficulty or pain while swallowing, making it uncomfortable for children to eat or drink.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: Lymph nodes, which are small immune system organs, may become swollen and tender in response to the infection. Swollen lymph nodes are commonly found in the neck area.
  • Fever: Strep A infections often result in an elevated body temperature, leading to a fever. The child may feel warm to the touch and experience general malaise or fatigue.
  • Headache: Children with Strep A infection may complain of headaches. These headaches can vary in intensity and may be accompanied by other symptoms like fever and sore throat.
  • Scarlet fever: In some cases, Strep A infection can lead to scarlet fever. This condition is characterized by a distinctive red rash that appears on the body, especially on the neck, chest, and groin. The rash may feel rough, like sandpaper, and is often accompanied by a high fever.

It's important to note that while these symptoms are commonly associated with Strep A, they can also occur in other respiratory infections, such as viral sore throat or tonsillitis. Therefore, a proper diagnosis by a healthcare professional, often through a throat swab or other diagnostic tests, is crucial to confirm Strep A infection and rule out other similar conditions. This helps ensure appropriate treatment and management for the child's specific condition.


While Strep A infections are typically manageable with appropriate treatment, it's important to understand that complications can arise if the infection is not properly addressed. Here are some potential complications associated with Strep A:

  • Rheumatic fever: This is a serious inflammatory condition that can develop as a complication of untreated or undertreated Strep A infection. It primarily affects the heart, joints, skin, and brain. Rheumatic fever can lead to long-term damage to the heart valves, causing heart problems later in life.
  • Kidney inflammation (Post-Streptococcal Glomerulonephritis): In some cases, Strep A infection can result in inflammation of the kidneys. This condition, known as post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, can impair kidney function and cause symptoms such as blood in the urine, swelling, and high blood pressure.
  • Ear infections: Strep A infection can also lead to secondary ear infections, particularly in younger children. The bacteria can spread from the throat to the middle ear, causing pain, fluid buildup, and potential hearing loss.
  • Sinus infections: Strep A can contribute to the development of sinusitis, an infection or inflammation of the sinuses. Symptoms may include facial pain, congestion, headache, and thick nasal discharge.
  • Skin infections: In certain cases, Strep A infection can lead to skin infections, such as impetigo or cellulitis. Impetigo is characterized by the formation of red sores or blisters, while cellulitis involves a deeper skin infection that causes redness, swelling, and warmth in the affected area.

It's worth noting that while these complications can occur, they are relatively rare with proper treatment of Strep A infections. Administering appropriate antibiotics, completing the full course as prescribed, and seeking medical attention in a timely manner can help minimize the risk of complications and promote a full recovery.

Communicating with Schools and Childcare Centers

If a child is diagnosed with Strep A, it is essential to inform the school or childcare center. By doing so, necessary precautions can be taken to prevent the spread of infection to other children.


Accurate diagnosis is essential in effectively treating Strep A infections. This allows healthcare professionals to confirm the presence of the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes and distinguish it from other similar conditions. Two common methods used for diagnosing Strep A are throat swabs and rapid antigen tests or throat cultures.

  • Throat swab: A throat swab involves gently swabbing the back of the throat and the tonsils to collect a sample. This sample is then sent to a laboratory where it can be tested for the presence of Streptococcus pyogenes. The laboratory analysis helps identify the specific bacteria causing the infection and provides valuable information for appropriate treatment.
  • Rapid antigen tests: Rapid antigen tests are commonly used for quick identification of Strep A infections. The test involves using a throat swab to collect a sample, which is then processed on-site. The sample is analyzed for the presence of specific proteins (antigens) produced by Streptococcus pyogenes. Results from rapid antigen tests are typically available within minutes, allowing for immediate treatment decisions.
  • Throat cultures: Throat cultures are another method used to diagnose Strep A infections. Similar to throat swabs, a sample is collected from the back of the throat and tonsils. However, instead of immediate on-site testing, the sample is cultured in a laboratory. This involves incubating the sample on a special medium that encourages the growth of bacteria. After a period of time, usually 24-48 hours, the laboratory examines the culture to determine if Streptococcus pyogenes is present.

Both rapid antigen tests and throat cultures have their advantages and limitations. Rapid antigen tests provide quick results, but they can sometimes yield false negatives, meaning the test result may not detect Strep A even if the infection is present. In such cases, further testing with a throat culture may be recommended for confirmation.

Throat swabs, rapid antigen tests, and throat cultures are valuable diagnostic tools that help healthcare professionals accurately identify Strep A infections. By determining the presence of Streptococcus pyogenes, appropriate treatment, usually involving antibiotics, can be initiated promptly to alleviate symptoms, prevent complications, and reduce the spread of infection.

If parents suspect their child has a Strep A infection or are concerned about potential complications, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.