Strep throat bacteria inching closer to antibiotic resistance, doctors warn

Study author: ‘We could be looking at a worldwide public health infectious disease problem.’

HOUSTON — The bacteria responsible for a number of illnesses in humans including strep throat and necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating disease) appears to be becoming less and less vulnerable to frequently used antibiotics. These concerning findings indicate that Group A streptococcus may soon become completely resistant to penicillin and other antibiotics of the like, also 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. That is a very concerning but plausible notion based on our findings. Development of resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics would have a major public health impact globally,” comments lead study author Dr. James M. Musser, chair of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital, in a release.

These findings are the culmination of an exhaustive international effort spanning close to a dozen institutions spread across seven nations.

The research team at Houston Methodist Hospital closely analyzed their entire available genome sequence library derived from 7,025 group A streptococcus strains that had been collected over a number of years and from multiple countries. Among that group, they noted 2% with concerning gene mutations. Those mutated strains were then subjected to further testing in a clinical microbiology laboratory. The additional tests confirmed that the strains in questions indeed displayed a lower vulnerability to beta-lactam antibiotics.

Scientists have believed for years that group A streptococcus lacked the necessary gene mutations to develop a resistance to penicillin, but these new findings paint very different and much more concerning picture. Now it seems penicillin and other antibiotic treatments for strep throat and flesh eating disease cases caused by this bacteria may one day be rendered totally useless. According to the study’s authors, their results only strengthen the urgent need for the development of a group A streptococcus vaccine.

“We could be looking at a worldwide public health infectious disease problem,” Musser comments. “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.”

Based on CDC figures, group A streptococcus is currently responsible for about 20-30% of sore throats seen in children, and 15% of adult sore throats.

Researchers say their next moves involve conducting a series of experiments in hopes of understanding how these mutated strains may manifest themselves in human carriers.

The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.