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How do children get group A strep infections, and are they serious?

Christina Johns, MD, MEd, FAAP


Keeping everyone in the family healthy is a top priority for all parents, so seeing headlines about the potential threat of an unfamiliar illness can be stressful. The key to staying calm is learning the facts and preparing as needed. Recently, clusters of invasive group A strep infections in children have been reported, understandably causing many parents concern. Here are some common questions I've been hearing from families.

What is group A strep?

Group A Streptococcus (GAS) is a bacteria found commonly on the skin, in the throat and in nasal passages. Simply being exposed to or even harboring the bacteria does not guarantee sickness; this germ is all around us.

How does group A strep make kids sick?

GAS can cause some well-known illnesses. These include strep throat and scarlet fever—which is strep throat plus a sandpaper-like skin rash all over the body—and a skin infection known as impetigo. Most GAS infections are easily treated with antibiotics such as amoxicillin. The symptoms are usually mild and can include:

  • Sore throat and pain when swallowing

  • Fever

  • Skin rash or red, itchy sores

  • Swollen lymph nodes

Less commonly, the bacteria can invade into body tissues. When this happens, the infection can cause the child to become quite sick, and the illness can worsen rapidly. These more severe GAS illnesses, such as necrotizing fasciitis (commonly called the "flesh eating disease") and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS), can be more dangerous than the more common GAS infections. That's why they require immediate medical attention.

How do I protect my family from GAS?

Group A strep is spread primarily through contact with bodily fluids, wounds or sores of infected people. So, basic hygiene habits are the best protection from getting sick. These include:

  • proper handwashing

  • covering mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing

  • regularly sanitizing and changing personal items like toothbrushes

  • staying home when sick

  • treating and covering wounds and sores

These tips seem simple, but they are critical steps to guard against not only GAS, but a variety of other infections, like colds, flu, COVID-19, and RSV that are also circulating now Practicing these strategies and encouraging your family to adopt these habits is an key part of protecting everyone's health.

Should I be worried about recent news of GAS?

Staying informed and aware is always a good idea. You should continue to pay attention, monitor the situation, and follow professional medical guidance. However, despite the recent reports of serious illness in children from invasive group A strep, we must remember that this is not a new infection and that it is treatable.

If you or your child begins experiencing any symptoms of GAS or feeling unwell in any way, it's always wise to call a healthcare professional for guidance on next steps. The earlier treatment begins, the less severe are the effects of any infection, no matter the cause.

More information

Christina Johns, MD, MEd, FAAP

​Christina Johns, MD, MEd, FAAP, is a pediatric emergency physician and Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care, the largest pediatric urgent care network in the US. She is board certified in both pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine. Dr. Johns is a member of the Section on Emergency Medicine, Urgent Care Committee, and Council on Communications and Media of the American Academy of Pediatrics.   

In addition, Dr. Johns is the proud mom of two teenagers, a son and a daughter. Visit Dr. Christina’s blog, Dear Dr. Christina, and find her on Facebook @Dr. Christina ​Johns, Twitter @DrCJohns, and Instagram and TikTok @deardrchristina​.​

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright @ 2023)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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