The Strep Outbreak Is Not Letting Up — Here's How to Protect Your Family
Cases of strep throat continue to climb, especially among children, drawing concerns from pediatricians across the country. According to new data from Epic Research, strep infections over the last few months have spiked beyond prepandemic levels and are up 30 percent since 2017.
This news comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it was monitoring an increase in an invasive group of strep-throat strains in December 2022. Part of the "group A" family of bacteria that causes strep throat, these more severe strains (sometimes referred to as iGAS) can cause rare but serious bacterial infections like necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, as well as scarlet fever and death, per the CDC.
Now, the CDC is reporting via unpublished data from its national surveillance program that emergency-department visits for strep throat reached a five-year high in February and March, per NBC News.
So far, the increase in infections seems to be primarily affecting children ages 4 to 13. But all age groups have seen an increase, according to Epic Research. It's worth knowing the signs and symptoms of strep to ensure you can best protect yourself and your family.
What Is Step Throat?
Strep throat is an infection of the throat and tonsils characterized by a very sore throat, fever, chills, headache, nausea, and loss of appetite, according to Cleveland Clinic.
"Most cases of strep throat are benign and easily treated," Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, says. However, in some rare cases, strep throat can lead to complications like scarlet fever, rheumatic fever (which is extremely uncommon in modern times), kidney disease, or systemic infection, Dr. Adalja says.
Strep throat is unlikely to go away on its own as the infection is bacterial. If you suspect you or a family member may have strep throat, go to a doctor to get tested. Treatment involves a course of antibiotics taken orally, Dr. Adalja says, typically penicillin or amoxicillin.
Also worth noting: strep is very contagious and can be spread from person to person via respiratory droplets (like when someone coughs or sneezes) and through direct contact. Children are especially susceptible to strep throat as it's easy to become exposed in school or any setting where large groups of people are gathered. Per the CDC, strep is most common in children ages 5 through 15, but very rare in children under 3.
Even with the appropriate antibiotic treatment, Dr. Adalja notes that those infected are still contagious until 24 hours after starting medication.
How to Prevent Step Throat in Children
While there's no vaccine to prevent strep throat, there are hygiene measures you can take to protect yourself and others.
The most important measure you can take is to wash your hands thoroughly (with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) and often — this is especially important for children and teens attending school or daycare. The CDC says hand washing should always happen after coughing and sneezing and before eating or preparing foods. You can also consider wearing a mask to prevent coming into contact with or spreading respiratory droplets. If someone in your household is sick, make sure to wash cups, utensils, and other items well before anyone else uses them.
— Additional reporting by Alexis Jones