Strep throat, also known as streptococcal pharyngitis, is a bacterial infection of the throat that is caused by group A streptococcus bacteria. Although it is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15, strep throat can be found in people of all ages. Strep throat is easily spread from person to person through tiny air droplets, which are infected with the bacteria, are released into the air when an infected person breathes, sneezes, or coughs around you. This air is then breathed in by a person increasing their chances of becoming infected with the strep bacteria. Some people are strep carriers, which means that they carry the bacteria but they do not show any signs and symptoms of a strep infection. These people can still transmit the infection to others even though they are not sick from the bacteria themselves.
The following are some of the signs and symptoms someone infected with the strep bacteria may present with:
• Sore throat
• Trouble swallowing
• Swollen red tonsils that may be covered in a white-yellow pus coating
• Decreased appetite because of the pain associated with swallowing
• Swollen lymph nodes around the neck
When seeing your doctor or nurse practitioner they will examine your child looking for the above signs and symptoms. If after clinical examination strep throat is suspected, then a rapid strep test may be performed in the office. This test will tell the doctor or nurse practitioner whether or not the signs and symptoms present are due to the strep bacteria or another bacteria. This test is done by taking a swab of the back of the throat to collect a sample. A sample may also be sent to an outside lab to determine which bacteria, if any, was found on the throat sample. This test usually takes a couple days before results are confirmed.
Once your doctor or nurse practitioner has confirmed that your child has strep throat, they will prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection, usually penicillin or amoxicillin. If your child is allergic to penicillin or amoxicillin, they may be prescribed another antibiotic, such as azithromycin. The course of antibiotics usually lasts 10 days, and must be completed to effectively eliminate the bacteria, even though your child may start to feel better after taking the antibiotics for a few days. The antibiotics not only reduce the severity and length of the bacterial infection, but also the likelihood that the infection will be spread from your child to others.
• Make sure your child gets plenty of rest
• Ensure they stay well hydrated by drinking lots of water
• Prepare foods that are easy on the throat, like soups, applesauce, puddings, and mashed potatoes for example.
• Colder foods, such as popsicles, or ice cream, may help soothe the pain of the throat.
• Over the counter pain relievers may help with the pain, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. (Do not give your child aspirin)
• Gargle warm salt water.
The best way to prevent the spread of strep throat is by taking the following measures:
• Properly wash your hands often and use alcohol based hand sanitizer.
• Have your child cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing.
• Do not let your child share any eating utensils or drinking glasses with others.
• Avoid close facial contact, like kissing, with your child while they are sick.
• Change toothbrushes and pacifiers once your child is no longer contagious (about 48 hours after being on the antibiotics).
If left untreated, strep throat can cause complications including:
• Tonsilar Abscess
• Scarlet fever
• Rheumatic fever
• Post-strep glomerulonephritis
If you suspect your child has strep throat, make sure to see your doctor of nurse practitioner to get examined and treatment, if necessary. If your child is not eating, is dehydrated or is having trouble breathing, take them to the nearest emergency department.
– Dr. Christina Cesareo and Dr. G Paul Dempsey
[Featured image: CDC / Dr. M. Moody]