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For Release: December 9, 2008
Contact: Leslea Bennett-Webb
Office of Communications
Oklahoma State Department of Health
405/271-5601

Health Officials Offer Information on Strep Infections

The Oklahoma State Department of Health said today the unfortunate death of a Fairview man from invasive group A streptococcal infection has sparked rumors and confusion about the disease among many citizens in the Fairview community.

“Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of the individual who succumbed to this infection,” said State Health Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley. “Group A streptococcus (GAS) infection is caused by bacteria commonly found in human throats or on skin surfaces. About 20 percent of people carry the bacteria in their throats and do not get sick. Those that do become ill often have mild infections referred to as ‘non-invasive’ infections. More severe infections may occur, however, and these are called ‘invasive’ infections.”

Bradley said non-invasive GAS infections include diseases such as strep throat, scarlet fever, impetigo, ear infections, and pneumonia. These infections are less severe, but more contagious, than invasive GAS.

Invasive GAS infections are less common but more aggressive and may cause streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, rheumatic fever, and necrotizing fasciiitis (flesh-eating disease).

“Very few people who come into contact with GAS will develop invasive GAS disease,” Bradley said. “Most will have a throat or skin infection, and some may have no symptoms at all. Good handwashing, particularly after coughing and sneezing or preparing or eating food, is important in preventing the spread of GAS infection. Be sure to cover your nose or mouth when coughing and sneezing. And wash, treat and cover infected wounds and sores to prevent the spread of bacteria.”

Addressing local rumors, Major County Health Department Administrative Director Stephen Rempe emphasized that animals are not typical sources of GAS infection. And group A streptococcal infection should not be confused with a staph infection. “Although one often hears about ‘MRSA’, an antibiotic resistant strain of staph bacteria, this is an entirely different type of bacteria and not involved in any way with the recent death,” Rempe said.

GAS infections occur more frequently during the colder months. If a person has a fever, sore throat or a red skin rash, they should contact their healthcare provider.

Bradley also cautioned that persons who have been diagnosed with strep throat should stay home from daycare, school, or work until at least 24 hours after starting antibiotic treatment.

For more information, contact the Major County Health Department at 227-3362.

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