family, among the most common bacteria in humans. These infections are responsible for a wide range of health problems, including such skin conditions as erysipelas, scarlet fever, or wound infections.
The name streptococcus was first used in 1874, meaning "twisted chain of berries," and refers to the fact that the bacteria grow in long linked chains like strung beads.
Some types of strep bacteria exist harmlessly in the throat; if the bacteria gets in the bloodstream, they are usually destroyed— unless the patient has a heart condition, which may lead to bacterial endocarditis Other types of strep bacteria can lead to sore throats, tonsillitis, ear infections, strep throat, or pneumonia. This same bacteria may lead to the serious complications of rheumatic fever. Another type of harmless strep is found in the intestines, but if the bacteria gain access to the urinary system, they can cause a urinary tract infection.
Common throughout the world in school-aged youngsters, incidence of infections have decreased since the beginning of this century. The danger of resistance to antibiotics were of little concern with these infections until the 1970s, when penicillin-resistant strains of strep bacteria began to crop up. As strep-A infections became less worrisome, strep-B infections became more virulent; then in the 1980s, strep A became more dangerous again; a much stronger S. pneumoniae is part of this resurging tide of infection. By 1993, Kentucky pediatricians reported that 28 percent of S. pneumoniae cultures from children with acute ear infections were drug resistant.
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