Unlike other common illnesses, strep throat (short for “streptococcus”) can cause severe pain and lasting problems if left untreated. But how do you know what strain you have? Although most symptoms, like sore throat and painful swallowing, are similar across strains, understanding the different forms of strep (and what they can lead to) can mean better relief, faster.
We’ve compiled the different forms of streptococcus: Group A and Group B; each strains’ symptoms; and when to see your doctor below.
Differences in Group A and B Streptococcus
Group A Streptococcus
Group A strep, the most common strain that primarily affects children and young adults, is a bacterial infection that causes a sore, scratchy throat.
Untreated strep throat can cause complications, including rheumatic fever and kidney inflammation, so it’s highly recommended to visit your doctor for prompt testing and treatment. It is not uncommon for the symptoms of strep throat, such as fever, painful swallowing and throat pain, to be caused by a viral infection or other illnesses.
Symptoms of Group A strep include:
- Sudden, onset throat pain
- Painful swallowing
- Swollen or tender lymph nodes in neck
- Head and body aches
- Nausea or vomiting, often in younger children
If your sore throat has persisted for more than 48 hours, or you experience a fever or have problems breathing or swallowing, seek medical attention.
Group A strep, with appropriate medical attention, is a short-term, treatable illness. However, the strep bacteria can spread to other parts of the body, including skin, tonsils and middle ear.
Without proper treatment, Group A strep infection can lead to inflammatory illnesses, including scarlet fever, a streptococcal infection that causes significant body rashes; rheumatic fever, a severe inflammatory condition that affects the joints, heart, nervous system and skin; kidney inflammation; and poststreptococcal reactive arthritis, a form of joint inflammation.
Group B Streptococcus
Unlike Group A streptococcus, most adults carry Group B streptococcus in their intestines or lower genital tract. However, for newborns or immunocompromised adults, this common bacterium can cause a serious illness called group B strep disease.
Healthy adults who do not have chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or liver disease, should not be at risk for this disease. However, pregnant women should elect to receive a group B strep screening test during their third trimester.
Group B strep primarily affects newborns, causing life-threatening symptoms like:
According to the Mayo Clinic, most babies born to women carrying group B strep are healthy; however, infections during labor can cause the infant to be critically ill. Therefore, it is important for mothers to take antibiotics during labor to reduce this risk.
As an adult, consult your doctor immediately if you possess any of the following risk factors:
- Chronic medical condition, like diabetes, HIV or liver disease
- Older than 65
Group B streptococcus is carried by many healthy people with no symptoms. Unless you have any of the outlined risk factors, there is nothing you need to do about group B strep.
With proper medical attention and treatment, group A streptococcus is highly treatable and shouldn’t cause further illness in young children or older adults. However, group B streptococcus can cause illnesses, although rare, in newborns and immunocompromised adults. It’s important to speak with your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms outlined above for prompt, effective relief.
If you are suffering from strep throat, contact a Medical West Otolaryngologist (ENT physician) today! For information about our ENT specialists or any of our other physicians or services, visit us online at medicalwesthospital.org. If you’re looking for a new physician, call our Physician Referral Line at (205) 996-WEST.