Infectious Disease

Strep Infections Program

Strep infections can cause a wide range of health problems (including strep throat) and are organized into two main groups. Group A strep infections can range from a mild immune reaction to life-threatening illnesses and include strep throat, scarlet fever, toxic shock syndrome, impetigo and cellulitis. Group B strep is the most common cause of pneumonia, blood infections and meningitis in newborn infants.

Strep throat

Strep throat is a common infection that is caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria that spread via person-to-person contact.  Although anyone can get strep throat, it is more common in children and teens because they gather in large groups where the infection can spread easily, especially at school.  The red and white patches in the throat, swollen glands, headache and fever that come with strep are uncomfortable for children but can resolve with antibiotic treatment.

If you think your child may have strep throat, you should take him or her to your family pediatrician. The doctor will do a rapid strep test right in the office and will be able to tell you the results of the throat culture within 2 days. If your child has strep throat, the pediatrician will typically prescribe antibiotics like amoxicillin or penicillin.

Although your child might feel better after a few days on the medication, it’s important to take the full course of antibiotics to prevent complications like rheumatic fever, which can lead to heart problems.

Cellulitis, erysipelas and necrotizing fasciitis

Cellulitis and erysipelas are rashes that begin at the site of a small bruise, burn, wound or surgical scar. Erysipelas is an inflammation of the upper layers of the skin while cellulitis often affects deep, underlying tissues. Although the sight of the rash and accompanying symptoms like the chills and a high fever may be a little scary, you should feel confident that our Tufts Medical Center infectious disease specialists are typically able to treat these bacterial infections easily with oral or intravenous (IV) antibiotics.

Necrotizing faciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria syndrome, is a rare but serious condition in which bacteria can rapidly destroy the skin, fat and tissue covering your muscles. The symptoms often start suddenly after an injury like a burn or cut. If your child has pain that suddenly becomes much worse than you would expect from the size of his or her wound 24-36 hours after the accident happened, you should take your child to the emergency room immediately.

Once at the hospital, our doctors will diagnose the infection by testing it for bacteria and using technology like X-rays, CT scans or MRIs to look for injuries to the organs and determine how much the infection has spread. After a diagnosis has been made, the infectious disease doctors and other specialists will work quickly to begin treatment in order to avoid serious and life-threatening complications. These treatments may include:

  • Surgery to remove infected tissues
  • Antibiotics
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

If you suspect that your child may have necrotizing faciitis, take him or her to the emergency department immediately.


Impetigo is a skin infection that is typically caused by staph bacteria but can also be caused by strep. It is most common in children under the age of 6 and begins when bacteria get into the skin after a small break in the skin like a scratch or insect bites. Our Tufts Medical Center infectious disease experts typically treat impetigo with antibiotics.

Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever is often thought to be a disease of the past but this bacterial infection is still around and most commonly occurs in children under 10. It often starts with a red, “sandpaper-like” rash that begins to spread after a small wound or burn becomes infected. It can also be passed easily from person-to-person. Our infectious disease specialists at Tufts Medical Center often treat scarlet fever the same as they would strep throat – by prescribing antibiotics and recommending that the child stay home from school for at least 24 hours to avoid the spread of infection.

Toxic shock syndrome

When you hear about toxic shock syndrome (TSS) your mind might immediately go to the warnings about using tampons that are not changed frequently enough. This serious but uncommon infection, which is caused by staph or strep bacteria can also arise from small wounds. The symptoms of the infection include diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches and a high fever. TSS is a serious medical emergency, so if you believe your child might this infection you should call your pediatrician or go to the emergency room immediately.

At Tufts Medical Center, our doctors treat emergent TSS cases in the Pediatric ICU by starting IV fluids and antibiotics as soon as your child is in our care. We then test your child for TSS and begin monitoring how other organs throughout his or her body are functioning. Because TSS is such a serious condition, your child may need to stay in the hospital for several days while we closely monitor him or her. Typically, if TSS is diagnosed and treated quickly it is curable and your child can get back to a normal and healthy life once they have stabilized.

While Group B strep is a bacteria that can cause illness in people of all ages, it is most serious in newborns where it can lead to sepsis (an infection in the blood), pneumonia (infection in the lungs) and in rare cases in meningitis (infection near the brain).  Many healthy people carry the group B strep bacteria in their bodies, so it can spread from a mother to her baby during a vaginal delivery.

Typically, women are screened for group B strep when they are between 35-37 weeks pregnant. If you test positive for group B strep, your doctor will start antibiotic treatment once you begin labor.

Babies who are born with group B strep typically have symptoms on their day of birth. The doctors in the Mother Infant Unit at Tufts Medical Center often work with our infectious disease specialists to test these babies for the bacteria. Once we’ve made a diagnosis, we will start your baby on IV antibiotics and monitor him or her to make sure that there are no other complications.

To make an appointment, please call 617-636-8100.