Tonsillectomy

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Strep Throat

What Is Strep Throat?

Strep throat is an infection caused by a type of bacteria (group A streptococcus). Strep bacteria cause almost a third of all sore throats.

Strep throat usually needs treatment with antibiotics. With the proper medical care — along with plenty of rest and fluids — a child should be back to school and play within a few days.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Strep Throat?

Symptoms of strep throat include sore throat, fever, red and swollen tonsils, and painful or swollen neck glands.

Not all sore throats are strep throats. Often, kids have a sore throat because of a virus, which will usually clear up without medical treatment.

Kids who do have strep throat might get other symptoms within about 3 days, such as:

  • red and white patches in the throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • headache
  • lower stomach pain
  • general discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling
  • loss of appetite and nausea
  • rash

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Is Strep Throat Contagious?

Strep throat is very contagious. Anybody can get it, but most cases are in school-age kids and teens. Infections happen most often during the school year when big groups of kids and teens are in close quarters.

How Do People Get Strep Throat?

The bacteria that cause strep throat tend to hang out in the nose and throat, so normal activities like sneezing, coughing, or shaking hands can easily spread infection from one person to another.

Kids whose strep throat isn't treated are more likely to spread the infection when their symptoms are most severe, but can still infect others for up to 3 weeks.

That's why it's so important to teach kids the importance of hand washing — good hygiene can lessen their chances of getting contagious diseases like strep throat.

How Is Strep Throat Diagnosed?

If your child has a sore throat and other strep throat symptoms, call your doctor. The doctor will likely do a rapid strep test in the office, using a cotton swab to take a sample of the fluids at the back of the throat. The test only takes about 5 minutes.

If it's positive, your child has strep throat. If it's negative, the doctor will send a sample to a lab for a throat culture. The results are usually available within a few days.

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How Is Strep Throat Treated?

Doctors usually prescribe about 10 days of antibiotic medicine to treat strep throat. Within about 24 hours after starting on antibiotics, your child will probably no longer have a fever and won't be contagious; by the second or third day, other symptoms should start to go away.

Even when kids feel better, they should continue to take the antibiotics as prescribed. Otherwise, bacteria can remain in the throat and symptoms can return. Completing all the antibiotics is the best way to prevent other health problems that a strep infection can cause, such as rheumatic fever (which can permanently damage the heart), scarlet fever, blood infections, or kidney disease.

To prevent spreading strep throat to others in your home, keep your child's eating utensils, dishes, and drinking glasses separate and wash them in hot, soapy water after each use. Your child shouldn't share food, drinks, napkins, handkerchiefs, or towels with other family members.

Make sure your child covers all sneezes or coughs (if a tissue isn't handy, kids should sneeze or cough into a shirtsleeve, not their hands). Give your child a new toothbrush after the antibiotic treatment starts and he or she is no longer contagious.

How Can I Help My Child Feel Better?

Home care can help your child feel better while battling strep throat. Give plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration, such as water or ginger ale, especially if he or she has had a fever. Avoid orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemonade, or other acidic beverages, which can irritate a sore throat. Warm liquids like soups, sweetened tea, or hot chocolate can be soothing.

Talk to your doctor about when your child can return to normal activities. Most kids can go back to school when they've taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours and no longer have a fever.

Reviewed by: Joanne Murren-Boezem, MD
Date reviewed: September 25, 2017