Streptococcal disease is caused by bacteria from the streptococcus ('strep') group of bacteria.
It's a common infection which typically causes minor problems that are treated with antibiotics. Examples of these include infections of the:
- throat, including tonsillitis
- skin, including impetigo (a skin infection most common in children, typically with red sores and a yellow crust) and cellulitis (typically red, hot, swollen skin)
- ear, often causing earache, fever, and hearing loss
- sinuses (facial cavities)
Streptococcus can also cause scarlet fever, a childhood illness that causes a distinctive pink-red rash.
You catch it by inhaling droplets in the air when people cough or sneeze, or by having direct contact with infected people. Symptoms start in about 1 to 4 days. If your child has a strep infection, they should not go to school or childcare for at least 24 hours after starting antibiotics.
It is rare for streptococcus to invade the body more deeply. However, when it does, streptococcus can cause:
- sepsis (a serious infection of the blood)
- toxic shock syndrome (toxins released into the blood causing fever, nausea and vomiting)
- a serious infection of the deeper layers of the skin causing severe pain and swelling
After a strep infection, people can develop problems including acute rheumatic fever and kidney problems, though these are rare.
Follow the links below to find trusted information about streptococcal disease.
Last reviewed: February 2019