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Diseases & Topics

Group A Streptococcal Disease

Group A Streptococcus (GAS) is a bacterium often found in the throat and on the skin, even among healthy people with no symptoms. Group A streptococci are spread through direct contact with mucus from the nose or throat of persons who are infected, or through contact with infected wounds or sores on the skin.

For those who do get sick, most GAS infections are relatively mild illnesses such as strep throat or impetigo. However, severe and sometimes life-threatening GAS disease may occur when bacteria get into parts of the body where bacteria usually are not found, such as the blood, muscle, or the lungs. These infections are termed "invasive GAS disease."

Two of the most severe, but least common, forms of invasive GAS disease are necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. Both can be fatal. Necrotizing fasciitis (occasionally described by the media as "flesh-eating bacteria") is a rapidly progressive disease that destroys muscles, fat, and skin tissue. Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS) results in a rapid drop in blood pressure and causes organs such as the kidneys, liver or lungs to fail. (Another form of toxic shock syndrome is caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus; that form has been associated with tampon usage.)

GAS infections can be treated with many different antibiotics. More aggressive care, including surgery, may be required in severe cases.

The spread of all types of GAS infection can be reduced by good hand washing, especially after coughing and sneezing and before preparing foods or eating. People with sore throats should be seen by a doctor who can perform tests to find out whether the illness is strep throat. If the test result shows strep throat, the person should stay home from work, school, or day care until 24 hours after taking an antibiotic. All wounds should be kept clean and watched for possible signs of infection such as redness, swelling, drainage, and pain at the wound site. A person with signs of an infected wound, especially if fever occurs, should immediately seek medical care.

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