What is Streptococcus (Strep)?

Streptococci are a part of the normal commensal flora of the mouth, skin, intestine, and upper respiratory tract of humans.

Many people have asked us if ‘Strep’ is the same as ‘Staph’ or staphylococcus. Although Strep is another Gram-positive bacteria that is also responsible for a host of serious infections and is becoming increasingly resistant to many antibiotics, the answer is no, Strep and Staph are not the same and have different effects on our bodies. We think it is worthwhile, therefore, to spend a bit of time describing Strep. In another blog, we will summarize the key  differences between these two bacteria.

Streptococci are a part of the normal commensal flora of the mouth, skin, intestine, and upper respiratory tract of humans. As such, they are considered to be part of the “good bacteria” group. However, certain Streptococcus species can be pathogenic (or harmful) or can become pathogenic when the body’s defenses are compromised or when these bacteria penetrate the body’s natural defense mechanisms. Additionally, they produce a wide assortment of virulence factors and a large number of diseases.

Streptococci are  responsible for a wide range of infections ranging from strep throat (or “streptococcal pharyngitis), meningitis, tonsillitis, septic arthritis, sinusitis, vaginitis, peritonitis, scarlet fever, postpartum fever, wound infections, impetigo, cellulitis, bacterial pneumonia, endocarditis, erysipelas, myositis, streptococcal toxic shock syndrome and the ‘flesh-eating’ bacterial infection called “necrotizing fasciitis.”1 It is this latter infection that has attracted a great deal of attention in the media in the past few years due to the terrifyingly rapid progression of the infection which has resulted in countless amputations and deaths against the backdrop of antibiotic resistance.

In the case of necrotizing fasciitis, Strep bacteria can multiply rapidly, dividing every 45 minutes and patients may develop symptoms such as rising temperatures and a spreading rash. However, it is also possible for there to be very few symptoms initially. By the third day, body temperatures may sore to above 102°F. By the fourth day, 25-50% of the patients begin to suffer tissue destruction due to the toxins (called virulence factors) produced by the bacteria that kill off the muscle and tissue. By the fifth day, if the infection is left uncontrolled, the patient’s survival rate is very low. The death rate for necrotizing fasciitis has been reported to be as high as 73% with a great deal of suffering.2

There are a number of groups of Strep; group A, B, C, D and G, all capable of causing serious infections and a further 80 different species of Strep.  Streptococcus pyogenes, or Group A Streptococcus (GAS for short) is the bacterium that is responsible for most cases of streptococcal illness. It is commonly found in the throat or on the skin. This type of bacteria is responsible for a wide range of infections ranging from mild infections to life-threatening diseases. It is spread from direct person-to-person contact. The bacteria are carried in the discharge of the nose or throat of an infected person or in infected wounds and sores on the skin.

Mild manifestations of Strep infections include streptococcal skin infections and the all too common streptococcal sore throat which affects several million people in the United States annually. Symptoms of Strep throat include a sore throat, a fever and swollen lymph glands.  Strep skin infections, however, cause red skin sores. Left untreated, common infections can evolve into more serious illnesses such as rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, postpartum fever, wound infections and pneumonia. Two of the most serious but least common invasive Group A Strep infections are streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS) and necrotizing fasciitis.  In Canada, there are about 200 infections a year resulting in about 50 deaths annually.

Risks of GAS infections is generally low but higher for those people in contact with people colonized or infected. The people that are most at risk are people with long term, chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes or kidney disease, and people who use immunosuppressive medications like steroids. Children with chicken pox, people with weakened immune systems and burn victims are also at a high risk. As in the case of Staph infections, early identification and early treatment is a critical key factor for successfully dealing with Strep infections.

  1. http://www.healthlessonsonline.com/strep-a/
  2. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/444061
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_A_streptococcal_infection
  4. Directors of Health Promotion and Education: http://www.dhpe.org/infect/strepa.html
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2 Responses to “What is Streptococcus (Strep)?”

  1. Eli Consentino says:

    Scarlet fever is an age-old childhood scourge that has been rare in the United States since 1970. Caused by group A strep infection, the illness causes fever, sore throat, white spots on the tonsils, swollen lymph nodes, a bright-red “strawberry” tongue, and a tell-tale red rash that starts on the abdomen and spreads throughout the body within two days. Scarlet fever is treated with antibiotics, but the new Hong Kong strain appears to be resistant to at least two commonly used drugs.^

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  2. Anabel Arnow says:

    There are many ways of helping the body in dealing with infections. Home remedies for strep throat are various and they include many aspects: diet, natural antiseptics, natural analgesics or natural antibacterial cures. Used appropriately, home remedies for strep throat can speed up the process of healing by fighting bacteria and by stimulating the immune system of the body.’

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