Could Strep Throat Become Impossible to Treat?

If you are a parent, you have likely dealt with your share of strep throat. For decades, when your kid had “strep,” an antibiotic like penicillin usually would have them back at school 24 hours later.

However, over the years, overuse of antibiotics has led to an evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and some researchers believe the problem is now becoming so bad, that we could get to a point where strep could become untreatable!

A new study warns that strains of the bacteria that cause strep throat and “flesh-eating disease” appear close to becoming completely resistant to penicillin and other antibiotics known as beta-lactams.

“If this germ becomes truly resistant to these antibiotics, it would have a very serious impact on millions of children around the world,” said study lead author Dr. James Musser, chair of pathology and genomic medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital.

“That is a very concerning but plausible notion based on our findings,” Musser said in a hospital news release.

The international team of researchers analyzed more than 7,000 group A streptococcus strains collected over several decades from around the world. They found that about 2% had gene mutations of interest. Tests confirmed that those strains have decreased susceptibility to beta-lactam antibiotics. That suggests these antibiotics may eventually become less effective or completely ineffective against these strains, according to the researchers.

The study findings highlight the urgency of developing a vaccine against group A streptococcus, the researchers said.

“We could be looking at a worldwide public health infectious disease problem,” Musser said. “When strep throat doesn’t respond to frontline antibiotics such as penicillin, physicians must start prescribing second-line therapies, which may not be as effective against this organism.”

Group A streptococcus causes 20%-30% of sore throats in children and 5%-15% of sore throats in adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, that same strain is considered the most common cause of the flesh-eating disease, necrotizing fasciitis. The bacteria usually enter the body through a break in the skin, and rapid antibiotic treatment is essential.