Meningitis Now staff member Andy Hopkinson

Understanding Group A streptococcus (GAS)

Andy Hopkinson | 16th December 2022

Many of our supporters will have seen in the news that cases of Group A streptococcus (GAS) infection and scarlet fever are rising, sadly resulting in the death of some children. But what are these diseases? Our nurse-led Helpline team has put together the following information that will hopefully help answer any questions you might have

Understanding Group A streptococcus (GAS)

It's important to remember that most infections that cause sore throats, coughs and similar cold-like symptoms should resolve without medical intervention. 

However, our advice is always that parents should trust their own judgment and instincts and seek urgent medical advice if they feel their child is seriously unwell and getting worse.

What is GAS?

Group A Streptococcus (GAS) is the name given to a type of bacteria commonly found on the skin and in the back of the nose and throat. The bacteria are spread from person to person through sneezing, kissing and skin contact.

Many people carry GAS bacteria harmlessly and do not develop illness. The most common infections caused by GAS are mild, such as a sore throat or skin infections, which are treated with antibiotics.

Scarlet fever is also caused by GAS. This is mainly a disease of childhood, characterised by a red swollen tongue, flushed cheeks and a fine red rash that feels like sandpaper when touched. Although highly contagious, it is easily treated with antibiotics.

Overcome the body’s defences

In rare cases, GAS bacteria overcome the body’s defenses, getting into parts of the body where they are not normally found. This can cause serious life-threatening diseases, such as sepsis or pneumonia. This is known as invasive Group A Streptococcal disease (iGAS).

Although uncommon, GAS can also cause bacterial meningitis. This occurs when the bacteria travel through the bloodstream to the meninges (the membranes which surround and protect the brain and spinal cord), causing inflammation and swelling.

Know the signs and symptoms

During the winter months, cases of bacterial meningitis also increase. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis. Read more on the signs and symptoms.

Our chief executive Dr Tom Nutt said: “If you are concerned that someone is ill and getting worse, trust your instincts and get medical help immediately – call NHS 111 or your GP. Early identification and treatment are vital in improving outcomes.”

Find out more about GAS infection