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Sore throat

Updated 25 November 2019

Can a sore throat really be deadly?

Sore throats are very common and they’re usually nothing to worry about. But if it develops into a serious infection, ignoring it can cause terminal complications.

A 13-year-old girl from Kentucky made the headlines earlier this year when she died suddenly during a school cheerleading competition. A coroner’s report later revealed that Lilliana Schaik died from a strep infection. According to reports, Schaik fell ill during a school ballet competition. After her hand went numb and she experienced pain in her pelvis, her father rushed her to the emergency room, but her condition quickly deteriorated...

Strep throat: viral or bacterial?

Sore throats can be caused by both viruses and bacteria, but the most common cause of a sore throat (pharyngitis) is a viral infection.

The common cold is a viral infection that usually resolves on its own. Strep throat (streptococcal infection), on the other hand, is a bacterial infection and usually requires antibiotic treatment.

In Schalck’s case, bacteria called Group A beta-haemolytic Streptococcus (GAS) are what led to her death. Her father told WLWT5 that she was healthy and had caught a cold about a week before the competition, which she had seemingly fought off. He added that the strep infection “overwhelmed her immune system with little or no warning, with catastrophic results".

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that GAS can cause various infections ranging from minor illnesses, such as strep throat, to more deadly diseases like pneumonia and meningitis. If your immune system is strong, your body will fight back and you'll recover after about a week. For the situation to result in serious complications or death, GAS would need to be very invasive, and even in such cases, around 90% of people recover with medical help. 

Oral antibiotics are effective for treating mild GAS infections, but more serious cases require multiple IV antibiotics, and even surgery to remove dead and dying tissue.     

In another 2017 case, a Michigan man needed a quadruple amputation after a near-death encounter due to strep-throat that had progressed. An 11-year-old Mississauga girl suffered the same fate after doctors had diagnosed her condition as flu.

According to MedicineNet, GAS is usually spread by direct human-to-human contact. Touching items recently handled by an infected individual also makes one susceptible to infection. While research into GAS is ongoing, there is as yet no commercially available vaccine to prevent infection. However, good hygiene helps to protect one against the disease, and early treatment of GAS infections can reduce or prevent progression to a more severe condition.

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