Some Chicago-area doctors say strep cases have increased in recent weeks and months, but as the summer progresses, doctors warn that symptoms aren’t always obvious.
Dr. Neha Bhagi, a pediatrician at the John H. Stroger Jr. Cook County Hospital, said she is among those seeing a rise in infections.
“The number of cases has actually gone up a lot,” she told NBC Chicago in an interview on 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, particularly in warmer weather.
“Usually around the winter you see a lot of sore throats, you see a lot of strep ear infections. More towards the summer you start to see more strep skin infections because, you know, you’re exposed, outside, you’re wearing fewer layers of clothing, you can getting a staph infection of the skin, per se for strep,” Bhagi said.
The recent cases come just months after health officials issued a warning about a dangerous and potentially deadly form of strep throat on the rise in Illinois, which has caused a number of child deaths in the state.
“We are concerned about children as we are seeing outbreaks of group A strep, just strep throat infections that are rampant in many communities and schools,” said Dr. Arti Barnes, chief medical officer of the Illinois Department of Public Health, in March.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said at the time that it was “investigating an increase in invasive group A strep infections in 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 said more cases of group A strep throat with serious complications had been reported in 2023 “than in the past five years” and urged people to watch for early symptoms .
According to Vohra, those symptoms can include “sudden sore throat, pain when swallowing, and fever.”
Then there are the typical symptoms that many look for in strep, and then there are the not-so-typical symptoms.
“(Strep is) very notorious,” Bhagi said. “So it can cause multiple signs and symptoms in your body. You can have a strep-related ear infection; you can have a strep-related sore throat; you can have a strep-related brain infection — in fact, it can lead to meningitis, which we called a brain infection that decreases, strep can also infect your skin, which is more common in the summer months than the winter months, obviously because of the exposure, strep can also lead to a very deep or very severe blood infection, 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 that anyone showing symptoms get tested.
Here’s what you need to know:
Some of the most common symptoms, according to Bhagi and the CDC, include:
- Pain when swallowing
- Throat may look red
- Red and swollen tonsils
- White spots or streaks of pus on the tonsils
- Small, red spots on the palate called petechiae
- Swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck
“If you have the classic symptoms of strep, which is a fever — whether it’s a low grade, like, you know, 100.1 or even 101 or 102, which is a high grade — you don’t have many cough symptoms, but you have a lot of sore throat, you feel itchy, you feel you have difficulty swallowing, you feel every time you drink or eat something it causes pain in your throat… you should always get tested so that is classic strep .”
But streptococci can also infect the skin.
“Group A streptococci are highly contagious. When group A streptococci infect the skin, they cause ulcers,” the CDC states. “The bacteria can spread to others if someone touches those sores or comes into contact with fluid from the sores.”
It can take up to 10 days for a sore to appear after exposure, experts say.
Symptoms for this type of infection may include “red, itchy sores that break open and leak clear fluid or pus over a few days” and “a crusty yellow or ‘honey-colored’ scab forms over the sore.”
“If you feel like you’re developing an infection of your skin, you see a more yellowish color, vaginal discharge or crusting around your skin, especially on your face… or you have an open sore, you just had a fracture or you just fell somewhere and you have an open wound where you see some kind of pus coming out, it’s always good to wipe it out and send it in to see if it’s a growing 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:
- Running nose
- Hoarseness (changes in your voice that make it sound hoarse, hoarse, or tense)
- Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
But that doesn’t mean you won’t see these in someone with strep.
“Usually you don’t have a lot of cough, you don’t usually have a lot of runny nose and congestion, but there are always atypical findings, you know, as with any infection, there can always be an atypical presentation.”
The 1 symptom you can see with all strep infections
According to Bhagi, one symptom is common among all types of strep infections.
“I think one thing with strep usually is, usually everyone gets a little bit of a fever, whether it’s a mild fever or a high fever,” she said.
What can I do to protect my child?
To prevent group A strep infections, the CDC recommends that you:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Throw your used tissues in the trash.
- Cough or sneeze into your upper arm or elbow, not your hands, if you don’t have a tissue.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand gel if soap and water are not available.
To prevent skin infections:
- Clean and care for wounds
- Wash your hands and wash often
- Take antibiotics, if prescribed