The strep bacteria, which is also known as streptococcus, are contagious germs normally found in the lining of a person's throat. They can cause a wide range of difficulties when a person gets infected. The problems caused by strep range from minor to severe, and antibiotics are often used to treat the bacteria.
Direct physical contact is generally needed to spread the strep bacteria from person to person. When someone becomes infected, they will normally have a thick mucous discharge carrying the bacteria. This is the main way the bacteria get out of the body. The strep bacteria can also be spread via an open wound, but this is somewhat less common. Due to the way it is spread, symptomatic people are generally much more likely to be contagious than those that simply carry the bacteria.
The usual result of a strep infection is strep throat, an illness that can be temporarily debilitating, but is usually not life-threatening. A person suffering from strep throat might have a wide variety of symptoms including severe throat pain, swollen tonsils, fever and sometimes swollen lymph nodes. A strep throat infection will usually go away by itself within seven days after symptoms first appear, but if someone visits a doctor, he will generally get an antibiotic prescription that can speed up the healing process.
Strep bacteria can also cause a skin infection called impetigo, which generally affects children and toddlers. This illness is often caused when someone scratches a rash and opens up the skin, allowing strep bacteria to enter the body. The disease generally expresses itself in the form of blisters that appear on the skin. These blisters can either be large or small depending on the kind of impetigo infection. The normal treatment is an antibiotic ointment, but some situations require the use of oral antibiotics.
There are two forms of strep that are most commonly associated with deadly infections. One is necrotizing fasciitis, which is also known as flesh-eating disease. This version of strep happens when the bacteria gets into a wound and starts behaving aggressively, releasing a toxic chemical that generally destroys the victim's flesh. In some cases, major amputations can be required to treat flesh-eating disease, and it is not uncommon for patients to die. Scientists are uncertain about what causes the strep to behave so aggressively.
The other deadly form of strep infection is called streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. Much like flesh-eating disease, this version of strep is usually spread through an open wound, and it also involves a strain of the disease with aggressive behavior. Unlike flesh-eating disease, streptococcal toxic shock syndrome generally attacks the body’s internal organs, causing rapid organ failure. One of the primary early symptoms is a large drop in blood pressure, and, quickly after that, failures of the lungs, kidneys and other important organs can generally be expected. Patients can die from this kind of infection because treatment is usually too late to be helpful.