What is strep throat?
An infection is most often caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria or GAS (streptococcus pyogenes or beta-haemolytic streptococcus / GABS), hence the name strep throat, resulting in inflammation and swelling, scratchiness and pain in the mucous membranes which line the back of the throat (pharynx), and sometimes the tonsils (adenoids). Groups C and G bacteria are also known to cause strep throat.
Once the bacteria enter the body it infects the pharyngeal tissue, resulting in an localised inflammatory reaction. These bacterial organisms can exist in the throat or on the surface of the skin and not display any symptoms. Thus, a person can carry the bacteria, but remain asymptomatic.
Strep throat is a common bacterial infection in children (especially those between the ages of 5 and 15), but can occur in adults of any age too. The majority of strep infections typically occur in the cooler months of the year (late autumn or fall and early springtime).
A strep infection requires medical intervention so as to prevent an array of complications such as rheumatic fever or inflammation of the kidneys, as well as rash or damage to the heart valves.
Is strep throat contagious?
Strep throat is a contagious infection and can be passed between people through breath, coughing and sneezing. Bacteria exists in bodily fluids, making transmission fairly straightforward and simple. Tiny droplets of saliva or nasal secretions that become airborne in close contact with another person can infect them with the bacteria, through inhalation. Transmission can also occur through the sharing of food or beverages or via contact with surfaces that have been touched by an infected individual and then touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes.
Transmission is thus more commonly seen in instances where individuals are in close proximity to one another, such as enclosed environments (schools, day care centres, shared home environments and the workplace).