Usually when we talk about “strep”, we think primarily of strep throat- the painful infection in the back of the throat that typically goes away with a round of antibiotics, rest, and some chicken noodle soup.
What most people are unaware of, however, is that the strep infection is not just restricted to the throat, but can actually occur in the sinuses and other parts of the body. When this happens, the infection can become much more serious and be potentially life-threatening if left untreated.
A couple from Idaho recently discovered this after their son came down with a case of strep in his sinuses, and are now trying to spread the word so other parents know what to look out for.
When a red mark first appeared on the face of Ashlee and Arden Hawley’s son, Coop, they didn’t think much of it, but when it started getting larger and larger they knew something was up. Their doctor prescribed a steroid for the young boy, but that only worsened his condition. It wasn’t until Coop’s parents took him to the emergency room that they discovered the real reason behind the rash- a strep infection in the sinuses!
The Hawleys were shocked- they had no idea that you could get a strep infection in your sinuses, and after asking around they realized others didn’t seem to know either. In an effort to raise awareness and warn other parents, they made a post on Facebook with photos of their son’s red face and asking parents to please watch out for unusual symptoms on their child- it may save their life.
“It could have been really bad had we not come in,” Arden shared on social media. “They told us it will continue to migrate through their eyes and into their brain if not treated.”
The post has already been shared over a million times and has prompted responses from parents who have had similar experiences and who, like the Hawleys, were completely unaware that something such as this could happen.
What is Strep?
Streptococcal infections are any type of infection caused by a group of bacteria called streptococcus and can range in severity from a mild throat infection to full-blown pneumonia. There are twenty different types of strep bacteria, which can be divided into two main categories, Group A and Group B.
Group A (Strep A) are usually found on the surface of the skin and inside the throat. The bacteria in this group are what commonly cause infection in children and adults. Minor GAS (Group A Streptococcus) infections include:
- Pharyngitis, an infection in the back of the throat that can cause swollen glands and painful swallowing.
- Impetigo, a skin infection that can cause the skin around the nose, mouth, arms, trunk, or legs to blister.
- A middle ear infection, which can cause an earache, high temperature and some temporary hearing loss.
- Sinusitis, which infects the small cavities behind the forehead and cheekbones resulting in a runny nose and throbbing in the face.
Group B (Strep B) are normally harmless and live in the digestive system, or, for women, in the vagina. This group of bacteria typically only affects newborn babies and causes much more serious types of infections .
When Strep Gets Serious
GAS infections are very common and usually go away after they are treated with antibiotics, however sometimes the bacteria can become much more invasive and cause serious illness. When strep bacteria get into muscles, blood, and other organs, it can become potentially life-threatening.
In its most serious form, an iGAS infection can lead to conditions like necrotizing fasciitis (better known as “flesh-eating disease”), myositis (muscle inflammation), myonecrosis (“muscle-eating disease”), and Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome (StrepTSS), which can cause total organ failure .
A report by the Globe and Mail during a Strep A outbreak in Canada in 2017 described how quickly the bacteria can become deadly if it gets into a person’s tissue or bone through an open wound:
“In a matter of hours, an infected person can go from having a mild fever to having flesh-eating bacteria spreading so relentlessly that the only way to stop the infection is by amputating limbs.” .
Other invasive Strep A infections include:
- Pneumonia: a lung infection that causes persistent coughing, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.
- Sepsis: a blood infection that causes high temperature, rapid heart rate and rapid breathing.
- Meningitis: when the protective outer layer of the brain becomes infected, causing severe headache, vomiting, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, and a blotchy red rash .
How Are Strep A Infections Treated?
Minor Strep A infections will often clear up on their own, however, sometimes your doctor will prescribe a short course of antibiotics. More serious infections require much more immediate and aggressive action .
Management of an iGAS infection requires treatment with fluids and electrolytes, specific therapy with antimicrobials, and measures that need to be put in place to minimize or neutralize the effects of toxin production. This should be carried out by a physician who specializes in infectious diseases .
Treatment for an invasive infection will occur in the hospital, sometimes in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), if necessary. Antibiotics are administered intravenously over the course of seven to ten days .
Early Detection Saves Lives
Thankfully, the Hawleys noticed something was wrong and acted right away. Had they waited too long, their son Coop could have been left with permanent damage and health issues, or worse, the condition could have taken his life.
Strep infections are highly treatable, but those that are more invasive require immediate action and it is imperative that parents, as well as the general population, recognize the physical signs of Strep beyond just a sore throat.
The Hawley’s story ended well, and hopefully the awareness they have created through their viral Facebook post will help other parents to recognize the signs of infection in their own children before it is too late.