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What Parents Need to Know about Strep Throat

What Parents Need to Know about Strep Throat

Strep Throat: How Serious Is It?

Sore throats are incredibly common, particularly in little kids. Most of the time they're caused by run-of-the-mill colds and viruses and they get better without medical treatment -- but around 20% of the time, and most especially when a child seems sicker than usual, it's what's called "strep throat."

Strep throat is an infection caused by Streptococcus (or Group A Strep) bacteria. Though it's fairly unusual for a grown-up to get strep throat (whew!), it's fairly common in kids – for some more than others. Because kids are contagious before they feel ill, strep throat spreads quickly, both within families and at school or daycare – and even among people who aren't in close contact. Therefore, it's smart to teach your child to wash his/her hands often!

What are the Symptoms?

If your child's sore throat is accompanied by these symptoms, you'll want to call the doctor because he or she may indeed have strep throat:

  • In infants, a low fever and thick and/or bloody nasal discharge
  • In toddlers, a nasal discharge is also common, often accompanied by crankiness, loss of appetite and swollen glands. Sometimes toddlers with strep get stomach aches instead of a sore throat.
  • In children over 3, a throat so sore it is hard to swallow; fever of 102 or higher, swollen glands; inflammation and/or pus on the tonsils and surrounding area.
  • Less common symptoms may include a rash or tiny red spots (called "petechiae") near the back of the roof of the mouth, body aches, headache, nausea, and vomiting.

What Should You Do?

Though strep throat is not a medical emergency, you should see your pediatrician within a day or so if you suspect your child may have it. Usually, strep throat can be diagnosed within a few minutes, right in the doctors' office. The test is simple (though many kids hate it): the doctor or nurse will swab your child's throat with a long cotton swab to get cells that are then tested for the presence of strep bacteria. Though it is quick, this in-office test (called a rapid strep test) is not as accurate as a 24-hour culture done in a lab so, if the result is negative but your child seems really sick, the doctor may order the additional lab test to be sure.

Strep throat is always treated with antibiotics, either given orally (in liquid or pill form) or via injection. The medicine works quickly. Within 24 hours of the first dose, children are no longer contagious and may even feel well enough to go back to school or daycare. Always take the full course of antibiotics to ensure that the infection is eliminated and no bacteria remain.

Need a Pediatrician?

Torrance Memorial Physician Network offers personalized, high-quality medical care for children from birth to 18 years of age. We have board-certified pediatricians who are experienced in providing very comprehensive general pediatric care, as well as providing care for chronic illnesses in children.