By Jack Galbraith, M.D.
Family Medicine Specialist
St. Anthony’s Medical Center
Strep throat is the most common bacterial infection of the throat, and strikes most often at children ages 5 through 15. Since strep throat is caused by streptococcus bacteria, it requires treatment with antibiotics.
If your child’s symptoms include fever, swollen tonsils and neck glands, red-and-white patches in the throat, difficulty swallowing, headache or stomach pain, loss of appetite, nausea or a rash – it’s time for a trip to see the doctor.
The doctor can perform a rapid strep test, using a long cotton swab to take a sample of the fluids at the back of your child’s throat. The results of this test can be ready in about 15 minutes. If the test is negative, the doctor may take a throat culture and send the sample to a lab for analysis. The results usually are available in one to two days.
If it is strep throat, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to be taken over the next week to10 days. Within 48 hours after beginning the antibiotics, your child’s temperature likely will be back to normal and she no longer will be contagious. To make sure the bacteria are completely gone, it is important that your child finish the entire antibiotic prescription.
Strep throat is spread through coughing, sneezing, shaking hands with an infected person or by sharing the person’s eating utensils. To prevent your child from spreading strep throat to others in your home, keep her eating utensils and dishes separate and wash them in hot, soapy water after each use. Make sure she doesn’t share her washcloth, towel or handkerchiefs with anyone else and that she covers her mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Frequent hand washing is important. Although not 100 percent proven, it may be helpful to get her a new toothbrush once she is no longer contagious, but before finishing the antibiotics. Some studies have shown the bacteria might live in the toothbrush and cause a re-infection once the antibiotics are completed. Your doctor may suggest this if your child has repeated episodes of strep throat.
Antibiotics have been found to shorten the duration of strep throat symptoms by an average of only 16 hours. Therefore, it is important to understand that the main reason we treat strep throat is to prevent the occurrence of rare complications that can arise from the infection. These rare complications include a kidney disease called post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, and rheumatic fever, a complication of strep throat that can cause damage to the child’s heart.
If your child has a simple sore throat, treat her symptoms and make her as comfortable as possible. If you suspect that your child, or anyone in your family, has strep throat, take immediate steps to avoid spreading it. Then visit your doctor for appropriate treatment.
Dr. Jack Galbraith, a Family Medicine specialist, is a member of St. Anthony’s Physician Organization. He practices at St. Anthony’s Family Health Partners, at 59 Grasso Plaza, in Affton. Call 314-543-5258 for an appointment. For a referral to any St. Anthony’s physician, call 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 1-800-554-9550.