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Common Bacterial Infections

Although not as common as viral infections, there are several bacteria that can cause an upper respiratory tract infection. Bacterial infections that can affect the upper respiratory tract include:

Group A streptococci
Group A streptococci, or group A strep, bacteria have an incubation time of one to five days, which means symptoms may occur between one and five days after exposure to the bacteria. These bacteria live in the nose and pharynx, or throat, and can cause strep throat, scarlet fever, impetigo, and other illnesses. A person with group A strep is generally contagious until they've been on antibiotic treatment for at least 24 hours.

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection, or STI, that usually infects the mucous membranes of the reproductive tract, but can also infect the mouth and pharynx. Gonorrhea that affects the pharynx may cause a sore throat, but it's often asymptomatic. Gonorrhea is very common, and many new infections are resistant to antibiotic treatment. Untreated gonorrhea can lead to serious and permanent health problems.

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
Pertussis, commonly called whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. It can be very serious, even deadly, for infants. Infected people are most contagious up to two weeks after the cough begins.

Chlamydia pneumoniae
Chlamydia pneumoniae can cause upper and lower respiratory infections. These infections have long incubation times, usually three to four weeks, and symptoms can continue for several weeks or months.

Infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae is called diphtheria. Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat, which can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death. Vaccines against diphtheria have been available in the United States since the 1920s, and diphtheria has become extremely rare in many countries. There are parts of the world, however, where diphtheria is more common.