The bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes is a significant cause of human disease, most often associated with infections of the respiratory tract, blood, and skin. It is estimated that streptococcus results in about 10 million mild throat and skin infections each year, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some of these illnesses can be life threatening.
Known as strep throat, this disease can have symptoms similar to viral sore throats. MedlinePlus sites Streptococcus pyogenes as the most common cause of bacterial sore throats. Symptoms usually involve a low-grade or moderate fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a beefy, red throat with draining white patches. Children may also complain of headache and stomach ache.
Rheumatic fever is an uncommon, inflammatory complication of strep throat. It most often affects the skin, joints, heart, and nervous system. Symptoms are quite variable. Fever, joint pain, and a rash are most common. Chest pain or the feeling of heart flutter may occur.
Impetigo is a common superficial skin infection in young children, which spreads through direct contact with an infected person. Small pustules and reddened skin appear most commonly on the arms, hands, and face, although the lesions can occur anywhere on the body. The itchy sores ooze and form yellow crusts.
Erysipelas is an inflammation and infection of the upper layers of the skin. The infection usually begins where there is a cut or break in the skin. Eryispelas produces a very hot, red rash on the face, arms, or legs. The infected areas are raised, with sharp borders. This illness can become chronic, causing swelling of the arms and legs.
Cellulitis can result when streptococcus bacteria invade the skin through a cut or scrape. This is an infection of the deepest layers of the skin and usually occurs on the face or legs. The affected area quickly becomes red and hot to the touch. The skin may appear shiny and swollen. Symptoms of fever, chills, and muscle aches can accompany the infection.
Streptococcus pyogenes is sometimes referred to as the flesh-eating bacterium because of its association with the very rare disease, necrotizing fasciitis. The bacteria enter the body, usually through a minor wound, and begin to release a toxin that destroys the skin and underlying tissues. Symptoms are fever, sweating, chills, weakness, and eventually shock. Death can quickly result without prompt treatment.
Scarlet fever is an uncommon illness that produces a sore throat, fever, headache, and muscle aches. A rash caused by a strep bacterial toxin appears first on the neck and chest, then begins to spread. The pinkish-red rash has the feel of fine sandpaper and turns white with pressure. The papillae on the tongue become inflamed in what is called a “strawberry tongue,” reports the Merck Manual Medical Library. As the rash heals, it begins to peel and flake.
Toxic Shock Syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome is an uncommon but serious illness occurring in association with a primary infection somewhere in the body, usually the skin. Fever, confusion, very low blood pressure, kidney and liver failure, difficulty breathing and bleeding problems develop within 48 hours of the onset of illness. The disease can rapidly lead to shock and death.