Strep throat, a common childhood illness, is caused by the group A streptococcus bacteria. It frequently occurs in the colder months of winter and spring.
This bacterial infection is highly contagious and primarily spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Additionally, it can be contracted by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Complications from strep throat are usually unlikely, and symptoms quickly disappear after starting antibiotic treatment. To prevent strep throat from spreading, it is important to encourage our little ones to regularly wash their hands and avoid sharing food or personal items with other children.
The most common symptoms of strep throat in children include:
- Sore throat that is particularly painful when swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils with white patches or streaks
- Painful and swollen neck glands
- Stomach pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
Remember that not all sore throats are caused by streptococcus bacteria. If your child has cold symptoms like a runny nose, cough, or pinkeye, their sore throat is most likely viral and will probably resolve on its own without medical treatment.
Although strep throat is highly contagious and can affect anyone, school-age children and teenagers are more prone to experiencing it. Infections often occur during the school year, with incidents peaking over winter and early spring.
The bacteria responsible for strep throat (streptococcus) resides in the nose and throat. As a result, talking, sneezing, coughing, or handshakes can facilitate the spread of the infection from one person to another.
If you notice any of the following signs in your child, it is important to talk with your pediatrician:
- Sore throat accompanied by tender, swollen lymph glands
- Sore throat that lasts more than two days
- Having difficulties breathing or swallowing
- Lack of improvement after taking antibiotics for 48 hours
When you visit your Pediatrician for a suspected strep throat infection, they will likely conduct a rapid strep test. This involves using a cotton swab to collect a sample of fluids from the back of your child’s throat. The rapid strep test typically provides results within about 20 minutes.
A positive result will indicate that your child has strep throat. However, your doctor may send the throat swab to a laboratory for further confirmation if the test comes back negative.
Strep throat is typically treated with a 10-day course of antibiotics prescribed by doctors. Although strep throat can resolve on its own in about a week, antibiotics can help speed recovery and prevent the infection from spreading to others.
Within approximately 12 hours of starting antibiotics, your child's fever will likely start to decrease, and they won't be contagious anymore. By the second or third day of treatment, other symptoms should begin to improve.
Antibiotics offer multiple benefits, including:
- Decreasing how long the bacteria lives in the body
- Decreasing symptoms
- Preventing bacteria from spreading to other parts of the body
- Preventing serious complications like rheumatic fever
To ensure the effectiveness of antibiotics, it's crucial to have your child take the prescription exactly as advised by your pediatrician. It's important to continue administering the full course of medication even if your child starts feeling better.
Serious complications resulting from strep throat are uncommon, but they can occur if bacteria spread to other body areas. Some of these complications may include:
- Abscesses or pockets of pus around the tonsils and neck
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Sinus infection
- Ear infection
- Rheumatic fever, which can affect the heart, joints, brain, and skin
Given that no vaccine protects against strep throat, it is essential to take preventative measures against this and other contagious diseases. Some steps you can take to ensure your child doesn’t get strep throat include:
- Proper hand-washing: Teaching your children to regularly wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds can help prevent strep contagion.
- Covering your mouth: Teach your children to cover their mouths with an elbow or tissue when they cough or sneeze.
- Avoid sharing personal items: Teach your children to avoid sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils with other children.
If your child has been infected, protect the rest of the family by keeping all contaminated utensils and items separate. After each use, wash them in soapy water and ensure that everyone wash their hands regularly. Additionally, give your child a new toothbrush after the antibiotic treatment begins.
Home care plays an essential role in helping your child recover from strep throat. Follow these guidelines to ensure the best care for your child:
- Hydration: Ensure your child drinks plenty of fluids by taking solutions like Pedialyte.
- Soft Foods: If swallowing becomes painful, try offering soft foods and warm options like soups, tea, or hot chocolate. Sometimes, frozen treats like smoothies or ice cream can be comforting. Avoid acidic beverages like orange juice or lemonade as they may irritate a sore throat.
- Fever and pain relievers: Consult your doctor about using over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen to help reduce the intensity of pain and fever.
- Returning to normal activities: Encourage your child to return to school only after taking antibiotics for at least 12 hours and when they no longer have a fever.