Toronto health officials are investigating an outbreak of Streptococcus pyogenes, or beta streptococcus group A at Seaton House shelter for homeless men, according to a local media report.

Group-A Streptococcus (GAS)/CDC
Group-A Streptococcus (GAS)/CDC

More than three dozen individuals have become infected, including five men who are suffering from invasive group A strep, a very serious form that can lead to flesh-eating disease, meningitis or sepsis. One fatality was reported in a man with the invasive form of the disease and had multiple underlying health conditions.

Some 170 staff and residents are being tested and residents have been cohorted to reduce disease spread.

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 though 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.

Penicillin is still the drug of choice for treating Streptococcus pyogenes infections. In cases when a person is penicillin allergic, erythromycin is an alternative treatment.