Strep A tests: how is infection diagnosed, can you get a rapid test similar to Covid lateral flows in UK?

Some people have been searching for Strep A tests online

Strep A infections are rising in the UK, with some seeking out tests to see if themselves or their children have the infection. But how is Strep A diagnosed and can you get rapid tests for the infection? Here’s what you need to know.

Can you get rapid tests for Strep A?

In certain countries, rapid Strep A tests are used to spot the bacterial infection. The tests are commonly used in the United States are similar in design to the lateral flow tests used to diagnose Covid. These tests involve throat swabs taken by a medical practitioner, with results becoming apparent within 15 minutes.

If the test is positive, an infected patient can then start a course of antibiotics immediately. If it’s negative but the medical professional still suspects Strep A, then the swab is sent to a lab for more thorough investigation.

These rapid tests are not used in the NHS - if swabs are taken on the NHS, then these need to be sent to laboratories and can take days to get back.

But after at least 15 children have died from Strep A in recent weeks and reports of the infection being in circulation, some have been searching for the tests online. Testing kits which had been available on Amazon and some online pharmacies have been marked as out of stock or currently unavailable.

What should I do if I think my child may have Strep A?

As a parent, if you feel that your child seems seriously unwell, you should trust your own judgement, said the UKHSA.

Strep A can cause throat infection, scarlet fever or skin infections such as cellulitis or impetigo. These infections are usually treated with antibiotics, but very rarely it can cause severe illness when the bacteria get into parts of the body that are usually free from bacteria such as the lungs, blood or muscles. This is called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease.

The symptoms of invasive disease can include: :

  • fever (a high temperature above 38°C (100.4°F)
  • severe muscle aches
  • localised muscle tenderness
  • redness at the site of a wound

Scarlet fever, which is caused by Strep A, can also cause flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature, a sore throat and swollen neck glands (a large lump on the side of your neck). A rash appears 12 to 48 hours later. It looks like small, raised bumps and starts on the chest and tummy, then spreads. The rash makes your skin feel rough, like sandpaper.

If your child becomes unwell with these symptoms, you should contact your GP practice or contact NHS 111 to seek advice. The UKHSA said it is important to contact NHS 111 or your GP if you suspect your child has scarlet fever, because early treatment of scarlet fever with antibiotics is important to reduce the risk of complications such as pneumonia or a bloodstream infection. You will need to tell NHS 111 or your GP if you or your child have been in contact with someone who has had Strep A recently.

If your child has Strep A or scarlet fever, or you think they may do, you should contact NHS 111 or your GP if:

  • your child is getting worse
  • your child is feeding or eating much less than normal
  • your child has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration
  • your baby is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38°C, or is older than 3 months and has a temperature of 39°C or higher
  • your baby feels hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest, or feels sweaty
  • your child is very tired or irritable

Call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • your child is having difficulty breathing – you may notice grunting noises or their tummy sucking under their ribs
  • there are pauses when your child breathes
  • your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue
  • your child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake