Dr Amir Khan Explains Strep A Symptoms

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Live to 100 celebrity guest editor Dr Amir Khan explained the common symptoms of Strep A infection and sounded a warning about confusing it with colds or flu. Dr Amir Khan said: “Streptococcus A is a very common bacteria, it’s been around for a very long time.

“We see it in children and adults – most of them cause sore throats, but it can cause skin infections and other types of infections as well.”

The bacteria can lead to scarlet fever, a contagious infection which mostly affects young children.

On the symptoms of Strep A infection, Dr Amir Khan continued: “The most common symptoms are sore throats, the tonsil at the back of the throat are usually covered in white pus or exudate. The message is if you have a child with a fever and sore throat you should seek medical attention.”

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Eight children have now died from an invasive form of the bacterial infection this winter. While Strep A can trigger an uncomfortable sore throat as in the case of flu and cold, it doesn’t typically cause a runny nose, though in may cause fever, muscle aches, swollen glands, inflammation of the roof of the mouth, a rough red skin rash, headache, nausea and vomiting.


Dr Amir Khan said: “It’s very difficult to kind of tell the difference between that type of infection and cold or flu but often the runny nose is absent with Streptococcus, so you don’t have that kind of congestion associated with this.”

It usually takes two to five days to become ill after being exposed to Strep A, but Dr Amir stressed it’s important to bring your child in to see a GP if they feel ill. He said: “The message is really if you have a child with a fever and sore throat you should seek medical attention. “We will help you get the right treatment, whether that’s antibiotics or whether your child is seriously ill and we need to send them into the hospital.”

Early treatment with antibiotics can prevent more serious complications arising.

At least eight children have died in the last few weeks from Streptococcus A infection, the bacteria that can give rise to scarlet fever. Though Strep A is a common infection and is usually treated easily with antibiotics, the fear is that months of lockdown have reduced children’s resistance to this and other infections.

A 12-year-old schoolboy from London and a four-year-old from Buckinghamshire are among those who have died from a rare, invasive form of the infection. Health authorities are warning parents to be vigilant for signs of streptococcus A infection, even though most cases are mild.

“It is really important to be vigilant because in the very rare circumstance that it becomes serious, then it needs urgent treatment,” said an NHS spokesman. There are concerns that because initial symptoms are mild, services such as NHS 111 may not be able to diagnose potentially more serious cases.

Symptoms of Strep A infection include:

  • Sore throat
  • Swollen tonsils with white patches
  • ‘Strawberry’ tongue, red with a white coating
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Rough, sandpapery red rash
  • High temperature
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced urination
  • Lack of appetite

The Strep A, or Group A streptococcus (GAS) bacterium is commonly found in the throat and on the skin and in most people does not cause any symptoms – known as being “colonised”, the NHS says. However, it can cause a range of respiratory conditions and is highly infectious, spreading through coughs, sneezes and skin-to-skin contact, so even those with no symptoms can spread the infection.


Most cases of throat infection will get better on their own without treatment, though skin infections may require antibiotics. However, GAS can also, rarely, cause very severe infections known as invasive GAS (iGAS).

Data from the UK Health Security Agency shows that rates of scarlet fever and iGAS are two to three times higher than the same time of year pre-pandemic, and cases are occurring earlier in the year. There were 851 cases of scarlet fever reported in the week of 14-20 November, compared with an average of 186 for the same period in previous years.

The UKHSA says there is no evidence that a new strain of strep A was circulating, and that the increase is most likely due to high amounts of circulating bacteria and increased social mixing.

NHS advice is to contact your GP or call NHS 111 if your child suffers any of the symptoms of Strep A infection, and to call 999 or attend A&E if they have difficulty breathing, cannot stay awake, or their skin, tongue or lips are blue.

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