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Group A streptococcal infections are caused by group A of streptococcus bacterium (GAS) which is a form of Streptococcus bacteria responsible for a variety of health problems. There are other types of the streptococcus bacterium that may also cause infection. These are streptococcus bacterium groups B, C, D, and G

GAS infections can range from a mild skin infection or sore throat to extreme, fatal conditions. If not treated correctly, patients can suffer not only from toxic shock syndrome but also from necrotizing fasciitis, commonly known as flesh eating disease. GAS diseases that are most familiar to people are strep throat and other minor skin infections. GAS may also infect tissues, specifically those in the vicinity of the lungs, spinal cord, and the abdomen.

Strep throat infection can be transmitted by direct contact with oral or nasal discharge from an infected person. Once infected, a patient can get sick within 3 days. Patients are advised to minimize contact with other people since infection can be passed to others for up to 2 to 3 weeks. It is only after 24 hours of antibiotic treatment that contamination of germs will be abated. Strep throat infection is diagnosed by a throat swab performed by a health care provider. The swab will be used for a culture or a rapid test which takes 10-20 minutes. If the result is positive, the health care provider will prescribe an antibiotic which will help relieve the symptoms. It is important that treatment is done as soon as possible so that the possibility of complications will also be reduced.

Complications can result in rheumatic fever, which causes joint pain and heart disease. The worst case would be for the illness to develop into Sydenham’s chorea, a disorder that makes the muscles of the torso and arms and legs perform uncontrollable jerky movements. Another complication is post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (PSGN), an inflammation of the kidneys. Although this can result from untreated strep throat infection, it also often comes after an untreated strep skin infection.

The more common strep skin infections are impetigo, cellulitis and erysipelas. Impetigo is an infection of the top layers of the skin which is most common among children ages 2 to 6 years. It starts when the bacteria get into a cut, scratch, or insect bite. Symptoms start with sores surrounded by reddened skin. These will fill with pus, break open after a few days and form a thick crust. Itching is common, so care must be practised to prevent patients from scratching, for it may spread the lesions. Your health care provider will prescribe oral antibiotics, as with strep throat. This treatment may also include an antibiotic ointment to be used on your skin.

Cellulitis is an inflammation of the deep underlying tissues of the skin while erysipelas is an inflammatory disease of the upper layers of the skin. Symptoms of cellulitis may include fever and chills and swollen “glands” or lymph nodes. Cellulitis may cause pain and reddening of the skin which later on may blister and then scab over. Erysipelas, on the other hand, may start with a fiery red rash with raised borders on your face, arms, or legs. Both cellulitis and erysipelas begin with a minor incident, such as a bruise, a burn, surgical cut, or wound. Your health care provider will diagnose by taking a culture from your skin lesions or from your blood. Treatment may vary according to the severity of the infection. This may come in either oral or intravenous antibiotics.

Severe GAS infections can cause bacteremia which is a blood stream infection. It can also affect multiple organs as such in toxic shock syndrome. It can also cause necrotizing fasciitis which is a flesh-eating disease. All of these may lead to shock, organ failure, and death.

Children with chickenpox, people with weak immune systems, victims of burns, elderly people with cellulitis, diabetes, blood vessel disease, or cancer, people taking steroid treatments or chemotherapy, and intravenous drug users are all vulnerable to GAS infections. Diagnosis of these infections is done by looking at blood counts and doing urine tests as well as cultures of blood or fluid from a wound site. Different forms of antibiotics are used to treat the infections. The best remedy of course is prompt treatment even before the onset of infection.

A person who is experiencing the first symptoms of strep throat or skin infections must consult his health care provider immediately so that the proper diagnostic tests can be administered which in turn will help in finding the most appropriate treatment.