Streptococcus are gram-positive cocci with a microscopic morphology that resembles chains of bacteria. Colonies are typically small (1–2 mm in diameter), translucent, entire edge, with a slightly raised elevation that can be either nonhemolytic, alpha-hemolytic, or beta-hemolytic when grown on blood agar. Additionally, they are facultative anaerobes that are catalase-negative.
The genus Streptococcus includes important pathogens that are categorized in serological Lancefield groups based on the distinguishing characteristics of their surface carbohydrates. The most clinically important streptococcal species in humans is S. pyogenes, also known as group A streptococcus (GAS). S. pyogenes produces a variety of extracellular enzymes, including streptolysins O and S, hyaluronidase, and streptokinase. These enzymes can aid in transmission and contribute to the inflammatory response. S. pyogenes also produces a capsule and M protein, a streptococcal cell wall protein. These virulence factors help the bacteria to avoid phagocytosis while provoking a substantial immune response that contributes to symptoms associated with streptococcal infections.
S. pyogenes causes a wide variety of diseases not only in the skin, but in other organ systems as well. Examples of diseases elsewhere in the body include pharyngitis and scarlet fever.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology