Alpha & Beta Hemolytic Strep: Treatment

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  • 0:00 What's a Streptococcus?
  • 0:59 Alpha and Beta Hemolytic Strep
  • 1:43 Treating Alpha Hemolytic Strep
  • 2:33 Treating Beta Hemolytic Strep
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heather Pier

Heather has taught high school and college science courses, and has a master's degree in geography-climatology.

In this lesson, you will learn about the illnesses caused by the alpha and beta hemolytic streptococci bacterium and the various methods for treating each type of infection.

What's a Streptococcus?

If you have ever suffered through a strep throat or strep pneumonia infection before, then you have experienced streptococcus first hand. Streptococcus bacteria cause a wide range of common illnesses in both humans and animals.

Before we can understand the difference between alpha and beta hemolytic strep, we must first understand exactly what streptococcus is.

Streptococcus is the name of a group of bacteria that are characterized by their chain-like appearance when examined under a microscope. The colonies look like links or beads, connected to one another like a chain.

All streptococci, the plural form of streptococcus, are gram-positive, which means when they are stained for lab analysis using Gram's method, they appear violet in color. Gram-negative organisms appear red in color. This color difference helps identify the strain of strep, which then allows doctors to properly diagnose the illness the patient is suffering from.

Alpha and Beta Hemolytic Strep

Like many bacterial families, the streptococcus group can be further subdivided into different strains based on the surface characteristics of the individual bacteria colonies, or the type of hemolysis reaction that occurs in that strain. A hemolysis reaction refers to the way in which red blood cells burst in response to different diseases.

The effects of these reactions can be viewed when strep colonies are grown on agar. Agar is that reddish material that is put inside petri dishes. It gives bacteria something to grow in, like soil does for plants.

  • Alpha hemolytic reactions result in a green-colored border around the strep colonies.
  • Beta hemolytic reactions show no borders, and the area around the colonies will look transparent or almost clear.

Treating Alpha Hemolytic Strep

The alpha hemolytic strep group includes strains that cause many diseases of the mouth, ears, and respiratory system. Diseases ranging from tooth decay to ear infections to strep pneumonia and brain infections can all be caused by alpha hemolytic strep.

Common treatments include antibiotics such as penicillin or erythromycin in pill or intravenous (IV) form. The strength of the dosage is based on the weight of the patient (heavier patients need more medication per dose to have the proper antibiotic effect), whether or not they are immunocompromised (because of prior illness or something like chemotherapy exposure), and if they have any allergies to penicillins.

Hospital stays or long-term use of antibiotics may be required for more severe respiratory, blood, and brain infections. Respiratory infections may also be treated using supplemental oxygen.

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