The Sams Valley Elementary School in Central Point, Oregon announced that it would be closed for a second consecutive day for cleaning and sanitizing after a school staff member died as a result of complications from Group A strep infection.
Earlier this week, the Jackson County Public Health Department was notified that a teacher’s aide passed away after a short illness caused by the bacterium, Streptococcus pyogenes, aka Group A strep (the organism that causes strep throat, among many other infections).
School officials say two other school staff members have suffered illnesses, but have not reported any complications, nor are their illnesses or symptoms similar to the employee who died. The health department says the case was an unusual complication that resulted from a common illness.
Health officials note that Group A strep bacteria can live in a person’s nose and throat. The bacteria are spread through contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. If you drink from the same glass or eat from the same plate as the sick person, you could also become ill. It is also possible to get strep throat from contact with sores from group A strep skin infections.
Streptococcus pyogenes, or beta streptococcus group A is a very common pathogenic bacterium in humans. Historically, Streptococcus pyogenes got its notoriety as the cause of puerperal fever, a life-threatening disease that was seen in women after childbirth, until Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that it could be prevented by physicians just washing their hands before each vaginal examination. Today, physicians treat infections caused by Streptococcus pyogenes on a daily basis with antibiotics.
Probably the most common disease caused by Streptococcus pyogenes is pharyngitis, or strep throat. Strep throat is very common in school-aged children, particularly in the winter and spring months. Untreated strep throat can lead to more serious complications like rheumatic fever; however, this is relatively uncommon.
It is also a cause of several skin infections such as impetigo and cellulitis. Impetigo is a characterized by a crusty lesion frequently found on the mouth area. Cellulitis typically occurs after a wound or burn where the bacteria enters and spread through the skin and lower tissues.
More serious, potentially life-threatening infections caused by Streptococcus pyogenes include necrotizing fasciitis (commonly called flesh-eating bacteria) and toxic shock syndrome. In addition, Streptococcus pyogenes can cause scarlet fever, septicemia and pneumonia. The death of Muppets creator Jim Henson was a result of an infection with Streptococcus pyogenes.
Superintendent Samantha Steele said that as the district grieves the loss of the beloved teachers aide, it remains focused on ensuring the health and well-being of students, staff and school visitors. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page.
“We’ve worked closely with Jackson County Public Health to protect students and staff from any potential risk, however small,” Steele said. “We are confident that when the school reopens Friday students will be returning to a safe and healthy learning environment.”