What are potential complications of strep throat?
The possible complications of strep throat include:
- Middle ear infection (otitis media)
- Toxic shock syndrome (a rare severe complication which may result in multiple organ failure and sometimes death)
- Peritonsillar abscess or retropharyngeal abscess (a walled-off collection of pus) containing GAS bacteria which typically requires drainage
- Acute rheumatic fever (ARF): While rare, this complication of an untreated or inadequately treated strep infection can have devastating and lifelong consequences. It is believed that due to incomplete eradication of the strep bacteria, certain GAS organisms cause an immune response, which may attack the joints leading to permanent arthritis. More concerning is the autoimmune response to the heart valves, which may damage them and may result in heart failure. Many studies have shown that effective and appropriate antibiotic therapy for strep throat vastly reduces the likelihood of developing ARF.
- Glomerulonephritis: Similar to the abnormal immune response seen with ARF, antibodies may develop and damage the microscopic filters (glomeruli) of the kidney. This complication more commonly affects children between 7 to 10 years of age. While more common than acute rheumatic fever, glomerulonephritis has a less serious prognosis. Effective treatment exists and most children make a complete recovery and do not experience any long-term kidney damage. Unlike ARF, the development of glomerulonephritis is not necessarily prevented by effective antibiotic treatment.
- PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Strep): Specialists debate the proposed link of a GAS infection in children with the development and/or worsening of obsessive-compulsive behaviors or tic disorder (Tourette's syndrome in the extreme). One area being researched in this controversial condition is whether antibiotic therapy effects the development of, or the severity of, the disorder.
How can I prevent contracting strep throat?
There is no vaccine currently available to prevent strep throat, but there are several behaviors to lessen the likelihood of developing a strep throat infection. These include:
- Avoid people with sore throats, and especially those with documented strep throat, until they have taken antibiotics for more than 48 hours.
- Wash your hands frequently after using items which may harbor the group A strep bacteria (for example, dishes and utensils).
- Don't share food or drinks with a sick individual.
- Encourage ill individuals to cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze or cough.
Medically Reviewed on 12/13/2017
American Pregnancy Association. "Strep Throat During Pregnancy."
Schmitt, B.D., MD. "Strep Throat Exposure." Seattle Children's Hospital Research Foundation.
Stead, W., MD. "Patient education: Sore throat in adults (Beyond the Basics)." UpToDate. Updated: May 31, 2016.