Strep A, which is short for 'Group A Streptococcus' is the name given to a type of bacteria sometimes found in the throat or on the skin. Strep A can cause mild illnesses like sore throats, scarlet fever or skin infections such as cellulitis or impetigo. These infections are usually treated with antibiotics. Rarely these bacteria can cause a more severe illness.
There are currently increasing rates of Group A strep and scarlet fever in the UK. Scarlet fever, which is caused by the bacteria Group A streptococcus, is usually a mild illness but it is highly infectious.
Scarlet fever is usually a mild illness that clears up quickly after a course of antibiotics. It usually starts with a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, followed by a rash that feels like sandpaper to the touch.
The rash usually develops after 12 to 48 hours, typically on the chest and stomach first, then rapidly spreading to other parts of the body.
On white skin the rash looks pink or red. On brown and black skin it might be harder to see a change in colour, but you can still feel the sandpaper-like texture of the rash and see the raised bumps. Patients usually have flushed cheeks and can be pale around the mouth. This may be accompanied by a bright red ‘strawberry’ tongue.
Lots of people carry Strep A harmlessly and have no symptoms. It can be passed from person to person by close contact such as kissing or skin to skin contact. Most people who come into contact with Strep A remain well and symptom free, others may get mild throat or skin infections.
The risk of picking up Strep A can be reduced by always washing hands properly. If you are pregnant or undergoing treatments, it is advised to wash hands before and after going to the toilet. It is also important to throw away dirty tissues.