Strep throat

strepthroat

Strep throat is a common condition – read about the signs and symptoms and how the doctor will treat a strep throat.

What is Strep throat?

Strep throat is a sore throat caused by the group A streptococcus bacteria. Strep throat is common amongst children and teenagers and often causes fever and swollen glands. Outbreaks often happen at schools or whenever large groups of children are together. It is more common during winter and in children aged 5 – 15.

Strep throat is contagious, and is caused by bacteria living in the nose and throat. It is spread through coughing, sneezing and sharing of eating or drinking utensils. Incubation period (the time between exposure to the bacteria and developing symptoms) is 2 – 7 days.

Strep throat needs treatment with antibiotics to help it clear and to ensure it does not cause any more serious problems. Your child stops being contagious 24 hours after antibiotic therapy starts.

Most sore throats in children – around 90% – are caused by a virus and will clear themselves. Viral sore throats are often accompanied with cough, hoarseness, a runny nose and red eyes.

What are the signs and symptoms of strep throat?

  • Sore throat
  • Swollen or tender glands in the neck
  • Swollen tonsils
  • You may see yellow or white dots of pus in the back of the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing and loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Possible red rash on the body with small spots – particularly in skin creases and under arms
  • Babies may go off feeding and have a discharge from their nose as well as a fever

What is the treatment for strep throat?

  • Your child needs to see the doctor
  • A throat swab will be taken to confirm it is strep throat
  • A course of antibiotics will usually be prescribed – normally of 10 days’ duration
  • If given antibiotics, ensure your child completes the full course so that the strep infection does not return
  • If your child is suffering repeated strep throats it may need investigation

Risks & complications

It’s really important to be aware that Strep Throat can lead to a much more serious disease called Rheumatic Fever. Rheumatic fever is a serious illness, which in New Zealand most often affects school-aged children and young adults living in the North Island. 

Rheumatic fever (an inflammatory condition which affects the joints and heart) is a complication of strep throat and, while generally rare, there is a higher incidence in NZ Maori and Pacific Island children.

Rheumatic fever occurs when the body produces a strong immune response to a throat infection caused by a particular type of bacteria – Group A Streptococcus (“Strep throat”).

Most “strep” throat infections get better without developing into rheumatic fever. However, in a small proportion of people, an untreated sore throat can cause the body’s defence mechanism (the immune system) to react very strongly, causing the heart, joints, brain and skin to become inflamed and swollen.

You can find our more about Rheumatic Fever on the Ministry of Health’s website. 

Strep throat can sometimes trigger a kidney disorder called glomerulonephritis (a kidney disease that involves inflammation of the inner kidney structure).

In rare cases a strep throat can also trigger scarlet fever and pneumonia.

What can I do for my child with a sore throat?

  • Ensure your child rests – keep them home from school
  • Give them plenty of fluids
  • Feed your child soft, easy-to-swallow foods – eg. soup, jelly, mashed vegetables, milkshakes, iceblocks, ice-cream
  • Vitamin C preparations for children may assist fighting the bacteria
  • Studies show that special active Manuka honey available in New Zealand can help soothe strep throats. Give your child a teaspoon of this honey to suck on (available in supermarkets) or Manuka throat lozenges
  • If your child is in pain or has a fever, paracetamol may be given – ensure you check the age and correct dose on the bottle
  • Teach good personal hygiene – regular hand washing, careful discarding of tissues, and covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Keep the infected child’s eating and drinking utensils and towels separate from those of other family members

Articles related to this topic include Colds, Flu,  Ear Infections and Sinusitis.

Kimberley Paterson

Kimberley Paterson is a writer and public relations expert living in Whangaparaoa. She had an initial career as a registered nurse and has spent the last 20 years writing about health and well-being.

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