I hadn’t thought about strep throat for years until my oldest son started pre-school in 2012. Then we were thinking about strep throat all. the. time.
It seemed to be the infection he picked up most often. Each time he had the tell-tale signs of strep throat, I would take him to our family doctor. Our doctor would do a swab and write us a prescription for antibiotics. We would wait for the office to phone with the results, and if they were positive for the strep bacteria, we would start our son on antibiotics.
Often one, or all of us, would also come down with strep throat. Antibiotics all around.
Admittedly, I’m one of “those” Moms who deep down fears her child is deathly ill every time he has a fever. Antibiotics have almost an immediate affect on strep throat symptoms. It must be the best treatment then, right?
Maybe the best treatment is prevention.
What Causes Strep Throat?
Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat, caused by Streptococcus pyogenes. Symptoms of strep throat include a sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and visible white or yellow spots on the back of the tongue and tonsils.
Strep throat infections are painful but they are rarely dangerous in the developed world. The primary reason to treat strep throat with antibiotics is to prevent Rheumatic Fever. In the developing world Rheumatic Fever is a serious concern, as there are 470,000 cases per year. However in the developed world, it is very rare with 0.015% of people with strep throat contracting Rheumatic Fever.
Strep Throat and Rheumatic Fever
When your body produces antibodies to fight strep throat, the antibodies sometimes attack the body’s own tissues. This is Rheumatic Fever. It causes joints to swell, but more importantly, causes damage to the heart. Valves can be damaged and scarred, forcing the heart to pump harder to move blood. If Rheumatic Fever develops again it can lead to a serious condition known as rheumatic heart disease. This can eventually cause the heart to fail.
According to the CDC, treatment for Rheumatic Fever requires long term penicillin usage to prevent recurring rheumatic fever attacks. It is recommended that penicillin is taken for ten years or until the age of 21.
Rheumatic Fever is rare, but it still happens. It just so happened to strike Australian John Tagg when he was a twelve year old boy living in Melbourne. For the next decade he was on antibiotics which made his body fluids “smell like a mushroom.”
Unlucky for him.
But luckily for the world, young John Tagg went on to become a microbiologist. And he’s dedicated his career to finding out how to prevent strep throat.
Discovering You Can Prevent Strep Throat
When our family was struggling with strep throat, we lived in the city of Dunedin, New Zealand. My husband was attending the University of Otago, which happens to be the university that Professor John Tagg still lectures at today.
One day while at the pharmacy (or “chemist” as they call it in New Zealand!) I was complaining about how many strep throat infections our family had experienced that year. “Well then,” the Pharmacist said. “You’ve got to get your family on BLIS Probiotics!”
It changed everything.
Three decades earlier, Professor Tagg began studying a group of one hundred five-year-old children in New Zealand. He took swabs from their throats and looked at the microbiome of the children who had the lowest rates of strep throat. The results were that these children had a special strain of the bacteria Streptococcus salivarius living on their tongues.
Bad bacteria that causes strep throat: Streptococcus pyogenes
Good bacteria that fights strep throat: Streptococcus salivarius
There is a specific strain of Streptococcus salivarius that produces natural antimicrobial molecules that stop competing bacteria from growing too fast. In 2000, Blis Technologies was founded by the late entrepreneur Howard Paterson. This company was able to commercialize Professor Tagg’s discovery with the development of BLIS K12 Probiotics.
Today the company sells a line of probiotics that can be purchased online from anywhere in the world. We order a six month supply at one time. Blis ships directly anywhere in the world (except USA) for free. Our favourite flavour is strawberry!
American customers order here.
Everyone else order directly from the BLIS website here.
Other Exciting Developments
A quick search on the BLIS website (or Pubmed!) and you will find that BLIS probiotics aren’t just for fighting strep throat. There is also evidence that they combat upper respiratory infections, middle ear infections and even dental caries.
The most recent study Professor Tagg co-authored was the effect of Streptococcus salivarius on the vaginal colonization of Streptococcus agalactiae (also known as Group B Strep). If you’ve ever been pregnant you likely were tested for Group B Strep in your third trimester. If you tested positive you would have been given antibiotics during labour. Group B Strep can cause infections in newborns, including sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis.
The study concluded “K12 effectively inhibited all Group B Strep strains tested, including disease-implicated isolates from newborns and colonizing isolates from the vaginal tract of pregnant women…. Our results suggest that K12 may have potential as a preventative therapy to control GBS vaginal colonization and thereby prevent its transmission to the neonate during pregnancy.” Although this option is not currently offered, I hope with the company’s success it won’t be long. It’s awesome when women have more options!
If you can’t get enough of this you’ll love Professor Tagg’s ten minute Ted Talk on the history and significance of his discovery.
Dr. Josh, Pediatrician