Within the world of bacteria, the genus Streptococcus stands out. Which is made up of several species and is considered facultative anaerobic bacteria. They can survive both in environments in the presence of oxygen or without it, although some can only live in the absence of oxygen. The marked difference between the species complicates their classification, so three characteristics are mainly taken into account which is serological, hemolytic, and biochemical properties.
However, only groups A, B, C, D, and G are relevant to human health since some naturally inhabit various body parts, such as the vagina, the respiratory tract, and the gastrointestinal system. Even though many of them are part of the bacterial flora in the body, they are still pathogenic microorganisms, and in certain circumstances, they could trigger diseases. Therefore, if you want to know what group A streptococci are, in this FastlyHealarticle, we will provide you with all the relevant information on the subject.
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What are group A streptococci?
In the human body, group A streptococci can be found on the skin and the throat lining. They are bacteria with a spherical or elliptical shape and do not reach more than 1 µm in diameter. In normal and healthy conditions of the organism, they do not represent a health problem. Still, if an alteration favors the increase in its population, it may be one of the most relevant bacteria in human pathology.
The leading representative of this group is Streptococcus pyogenes, being the cause of essential diseases. Although in most cases, they are of a mild degree and can be treated without significant problems. There are other circumstances in which infection by bacteria of group A is very fast, invading and damaging tissues with severe intensity.
How can I get group A strep?
The transmission route of group A streptococci is through direct contact, whether the nasal or throat secretions with these bacteria come into contact with skin lesions of the same person or the healthy individual has been exposed to the secretions or skin lesions a patient with group A streptococci. In the first case, the infection does not usually occur directly in the throat because it cannot cross the defenses. Still, it is possible to enter through a wound or sores, achieving more easily invasion of tissue.
Despite this, not everyone who comes into contact with the bacteria becomes ill, which is related to general health and the immune system. When the body’s defenses are low, the risk of contracting group A streptococci is more significant, with the most vulnerable risk groups being:
- People over 65 years of age.
- Chronic disease patients.
- Wounds on the skin.
- Heart disease.
- People on kidney dialysis.
- People who are on steroid drug treatments.
What diseases do group A streptococci cause?
It is essential to mention that not all group A streptococcal species cause the same diseases or in the same intensity. Some may not manifest themselves or trigger a severe infection that could even be fatal without proper care, as occurs with invasive disease due to group A streptococci. However, these cases are not very common. Among the most frequent infections caused by group A streptococci:
- Strep throat or tonsillitis: This is the most common infection and has affected many people. Symptoms include pain and redness in the throat, fever, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck accompanied by tenderness to the touch.
- Scarlet fever is a frequent infection in children and young people, with a mild intensity of rapid onset or short duration. The main manifestations are a rash covering most of the body, high fever, and a sore throat.
- Rheumatic fever is usually a complication of streptococcal tonsillitis or scarlet fever; if they are not well treated, it arises as a response of the immune system that attacks the antigen of these streptococcal bacteria. The characteristic symptoms are fever, pain, tenderness in the joints, and inflammation in essential structures such as the heart, joints, and blood vessels.
- Impetigo: This is a highly contagious skin infection due to red sores on the face, especially around the nose and mouth, which burst and ooze for a few days. It is one of the most common groups A streptococcal conditions in infants and children.
- Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis: This usually results from strep throat or impetigo. Inflammation occurs in the glomeruli, a network of capillaries responsible for filtering the blood plasma. It is characterized by cloudy or bloody urine, decreased urine production, and swelling in various body parts caused by the accumulation of fluid.
The severe infections that constitute invasive group A streptococcal disease are caused by strains of bacteria that produce a toxin that damages the invading tissue, such as deep muscles, fat tissue, blood, and lungs. However, they are the least common diseases. The most severe forms that these bacteria can develop are:
- Toxic shock: It is an infection that progresses very quickly to the tissues and the circulatory system, seriously affecting essential organs such as the kidneys, liver, and lungs. This disease usually has a fever, abdominal pain, rash, confusion, dizziness, and low blood pressure. At the same time, complications include severe brain damage, actual failure, shortness of breath, liver dysfunction, and toxic cardiomyopathy.
- Necrotizing fasciitis or streptococcal gangrene: The infection occurs in the fascia, the fibrous tissue that covers the bones and muscles, and in the deep subcutaneous tissues, causing the death of these tissues quickly and extensively. It begins as a small lesion that evolves rapidly over the next 24 to 72 hours, and the surrounding skin becomes inflamed, darkened by necrosis, and purple, followed by bloody blisters. Even following proper treatment, the probability of death is high.
How to prevent group A strep infection
Taking into account that an essential factor in avoiding getting sick from group A streptococcus is maintaining adequate health and a robust immune system, some preventive measures are helpful to reduce the possibility of acquiring these bacteria, of which the following stand out:
- Wash your hands properly, especially before preparing food and after eating, sneezing, and coughing.
- You are covering your mouth with the inside of your elbow when coughing or sneezing prevents bacteria from getting on your hands and is easier to spread to other people.
- Clean and adequately care for any skin wound. If it becomes red, swollen, and painful, it is essential to see a doctor because it could be infected.
- Streptococcal patients should not attend their work or educational centers until 24 hours after their antibiotic treatment.
- Avoid being in contact with dirty clothes or handkerchiefs that a strep patient used.
- Change your toothbrush for a new one-two days after starting antibiotics.
This article is merely informative. At FastlyHeal .com, we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor if you present any condition or discomfort.
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I am a Surgeon with a diploma in comprehensive ultrasound and surgical care residency, an area I am specializing in. During the exercise of my profession, I have realized the need for patients to know the diseases they suffer, and I can tell you that a large part of their complications is due to a lack of information. Being a health web writer allows me to transmit my experience, without borders, to all those readers eager for knowledge, educate them in the prevention of diseases and promote a healthy lifestyle.