Wednesday, June 13, 2018 by Ralph Flores
Group A streptococcal (GAS) infections are bacterial infections that can cause a variety of conditions – some minor, such as mild skin infections and a sore throat, while others are life-threatening. In particular, a well-known GAS infection is strep throat, which is also one of the most common forms of the disease.
The infections are caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes, a gram-positive coccus (spherical bacteria) that is highly communicable and is found in most areas. It is also referred to as group A beta-hemolytic Streptococcus (or group A strep) and it spreads either through skin-to-skin contact or from being exposed to respiratory droplets from a person infected with the disease.
In the U.S., at least 10 million people have reported having noninvasive GAS infections every year, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the most part, most reports are limited to throat and mild skin infections. However, reported cases of invasive GAS infections are on the rise, with researchers suggesting that this is due to the pathogen’s increasing ability to cause disease.
Known risk factors and symptoms of group A streptococcal infections
There are various factors that increase a person’s risk of disease, including both host and environmental factors. Those who suffer from certain conditions such as HIV infection, diabetes, and cardiac disease have a high risk of being infected with invasive GAS disease. Being around a person with a GAS infection also increases the risk of acquiring it.
Depending on what type of infection a person has, he may manifest various symptoms.
If a person has streptococcal sore throat or strep throat, he may experience the following.
- A sore, red throat
- The presence of pus-like fluid in the tonsils
- Fever and chills
- Enlarged lymph nodes which are tender to the touch
- In children, vomiting and abdominal pain
A person infected with scarlet fever would have the following symptoms.
- Inflammation of the throat
- The presence of a pink-red rash that feels rough in the abdomen, side of the chest, and in the skin folds
- Bright red tongue (also called “strawberry tongue”)
- Paleness around the areas of the mouth
Impetigo, another condition caused by streptococcal bacteria, can be caused by group A strep; however, some cases could also be the result of the S. aureus (or “golden staph” bacteria). Symptoms include:
- The formation of blisters, especially around the mouth and legs
- Swollen lymph nodes, sometimes accompanied by a fever
Body systems affected by group A streptococcal infections
The following complications are caused by GAS infections.
- Strep throat is the most common type of GAS infection. The condition is known to quickly spread to other people; however, children are more likely to be infected by it. Most cases of strep throat are mild; however, some complications include sinus and ear infections, as well as rheumatic fever in severe cases.
- Scarlet fever, also called scarlatina, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that is characterized by the presence of a “strawberry” tongue and bright red skin in the folds of the skin. It is also a mild condition, with complications ranging from swollen lymph nodes, the presence of abscesses around the tonsils, and, in worse cases, infections that affect the heart and kidneys.
- Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (PSGN) is a severe complication from GAS infections that affects the kidneys. The hallmark symptoms of PSGN are dark, reddish-brown urine and swelling around the face and extremities.
- Cellulitis is another condition caused by a GAS infection. In particular, cellulitis occurs when group A strep bacteria enter the body through a wound or a burn. This can result in a painful rash, where the skin blisters and scabs over.
- Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a life-threatening complication caused by infections from either group A strep or S. aureus. A person with TSS experiences multiorgan failure, a severe drop in blood pressure, and other neurologic abnormalities.
- Necrotizing fasciitis is a rapidly progressing infection of connective tissues called fascia, often referred to as the “flesh-eating disease.” In particular, Type II of the condition is caused by group A strep bacteria.
Food items or nutrients that may prevent or relieve group A streptococcal infections
For the most part, GAS infections are benign and could be treated by several home remedies, including the following:
- Herbal tea helps relieve the pain caused by a strep throat. Chamomile tea contains antioxidants that can help relieve pain, congestion, redness, and swelling, while dandelion tea boosts the immune system.
- Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid which has natural antibacterial properties.
- Himalayan salt reduces the swelling that accompanies strep throat. It also possesses natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Peppermint oil contains menthol which, when ingested, can relieve a strep throat and provide a cooling sensation.
- Raw honey is a natural antibacterial, and it also supports the immune system, thanks to its numerous antioxidants.
- Bone broth contains easily digested minerals which boost the immune system and maintain hydration.
- Elderberry, when ingested as a tea, contains antibacterial properties.
- Lemon oil is a natural antibacterial agent which can inhibit the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Treatment and management options for group A streptococcal infections
Treating GAS infections depends on the type of infection. However, healthcare professionals should take note of symptoms presented by GAS, as this may lead to TSS.
While there is prescription medicine to treat GAS infections, some natural ways to relieve symptoms include:
- Gargling with salt water
- Sipping warm beverages such as herbal teas
- Using a humidifier to keep the mouth and throat from drying out.
- Diluting apple cider vinegar and using it to gargle
Where to learn more
Group A streptococcal (GAS) infections are bacterial infections the can cause a variety of conditions – some minor, such as mild skin infections and a sore throat. Other infections, on the other hand, are life-threatening.
Various factors increase a person’s risk of having GAS infections, including both host and environmental factors.
While there is prescription medicine to treat GAS infections, there are natural ways to relieve symptoms. These include gargling with salt water, using a humidifier, and sipping warm beverages, to name a few.
CDC.gov 1 [PDF]