Some doctors in the Chicago area say strep cases have been on the rise in recent weeks and months, but as summer gets underway, doctors warn that symptoms may not always be obvious.
said Dr. Neha Bhagi, a pediatrician at John H. Stroger Jr. Cook County Hospital, which is among those seeing an increase in infections.
“Cases are going up a lot, really,” he told NBC Chicago in an interview Tuesday.
Bhagi said that while the typical season for strep may be in the winter months, when children experience strep throat, there are other presentations the infection can take, especially in warmer weather.
“Typically during the winter you can see a lot of sore throats, you can see a lot of ear infections with strep. More so in the summer you start to see more skin infections with strep because, you know, you’re exposed, outside, you’re wearing fewer layers of clothing, you can get a staph infection of the skin, per se, for strep,” says Bhagi.
The recent cases come just months after health officials issued a warning about a dangerous and potentially fatal type of strep throat infection on the rise in Illinois, which has caused several deaths in children in the state. .
“We are concerned about children because we are seeing group A strep outbreaks, strep throat outbreaks that are rampant in many communities and in schools,” said Dr. Arti Barnes, chief medical officer for the Illinois Department of Public Health, in March.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said at the time it was “scrutinizing the increase in invasive group A strep infections among children in the United States,” adding that such infections include things like necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.
On March 10, IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra more cases of group A strep throat leading to severe complications were reported in 2023 “than in any of the past five years” and urged people to monitor for early symptoms.
According to Vohra, those symptoms can include “sudden onset of sore throat, pain when swallowing and fever.”
Beyond that, there are the typical symptoms that many people see with strep, and then there are the not-so-typical symptoms.
“[Strep is] very well known,” says Bhagi. “So it can cause a lot of signs and symptoms in your body. You may have a strep-related ear infection; you may have a strep-related sore throat; you can have a strep-related brain infection – in fact it can lead to meningitis, which we call a brain infection that goes down; strep can also infect your skin, which is more in summer months than winter months obviously because of the exposure. Strep can also lead to very deep or very serious blood infections, which we call toxic shock syndrome that you can get with strep. Eventually, strep can infect your kidneys and your heart if left untreated.”
Bhagi recommends anyone showing symptoms get tested.
Here’s what to know:
Some of the more common symptoms, according to Bhagi et al CDC, include:
- Pain when swallowing
- The throat may appear red
- Red and sore tonsils
- White patches or streaks of pus on the tonsils
- Small, red spots on the roof of the mouth, called petechiae
- Swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck
“If you have the classic symptoms of strep, which is a fever — if it’s low grade, like, you know, 100.1 or even 101 or 102, which is high grade — you don’t have a lot of cough symptoms but you have you have a very sore throat, itching, you feel like you have trouble swallowing, you feel like every time you drink or eat something it hurts your throat … you should always get tested. So that is classic strep .”
But strep can also infect the skin.
“Group A strep bacteria are highly contagious. When group A strep bacteria infect the skin, they cause sores,” the CDC states. “The bacteria can spread to others if someone touches those sores or comes in contact with the fluid from the sores.”
It can take up to 10 days for a lesion to appear following exposure, experts say.
Symptoms for this type of infection can include “red, itchy sores that break open and ooze clear fluid or pus for several days” and “a rough yellow or ‘honey-colored’ bump in the wound.”
“If you feel like you’re getting an infection on your skin, you see a yellowish color, discharge or crusting around your skin, especially on your face … or you have an open wound, you just had of a fracture. or you just fell somewhere and you have an open wound where you see some sort of cat discharge, it’s always good to wipe it off and send it to see if it’s a developing strep infection.”
Less Common Symptoms
Some of the lesser known symptoms may include:
Symptoms Not Associated with Strep
Symptoms you probably won’t see with strep infections include things like:
- Helps colds
- Hoarseness (changes in your voice that make it sound breathy, raspy, or strained)
- pink eye (conjunctivitis)
But that doesn’t mean you won’t see them in someone with strep.
“Usually you don’t have much of a cough, usually not much of a runny nose and congestion, but there are always atypical findings, you know, like with any infection, there can always be an atypical presentation.”
The 1 Symptom You See With All Strep Infections
According to Bhagi, one symptom is common to all types of strep infections.
“I think one thing with strep is usually, most everyone gets a little bit of a fever, whether it’s a low-grade fever or a high-grade fever,” he said.
What Can I Do to Protect My Child?
To prevent group A strep infections, the CDC recommends you:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Place your used tissue in the waste basket.
- Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands, if you don’t have a tissue.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
To prevent skin infections:
- Clean and care for wounds
- Wash hands and launder frequently
- Take antibiotics, if prescribed