18. How do you know if your child has strep throat?

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is an infection caused by the group A streptococcus pyogenes (strep) bacteria and is more common in children than in adults.

What are the symptoms of strep throat?

Children with strep throat often have a fever and complain of sore throat (without cough), headache and stomach ache. They may also have swollen, tender glands in the neck, or sores around the nose. Scarlet fever, a rare form of strep infection, is characterized by a sore throat, more general symptoms, such as fatigue, and a red rash on the body that feels like sandpaper. Some children can get very serious complications, such as rheumatic fever, heart disease or kidney disease, if the infection is not treated completely with antibiotics.

How is strep throat transmitted?

The strep bacteria are found in an infected person’s saliva. The infection spreads through the air when the infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. The spread of infection can be stopped by treating the infected person with an antibiotic.

How is strep throat diagnosed and treated?

It is difficult to diagnose strep throat just by looking at the throat. The physician often takes a swab of the throat to see if strep bacteria is present. If strep throat is diagnosed, the physician will prescribe an antibiotic, usually penicillin. This medication comes in the form of a pill, a liquid or an injection. If treatment is begun soon after the infection has started, the child will feel better very soon. This treatment almost always prevents the serious complications that can result from strep throat.

What can parents do?

  • Watch your child for signs of strep throat if another child has it.
  • Encourage proper dental hygiene and gargling with a warm salt water solution to prevent infection.
  • If you suspect your child has strep throat, contact your physician. If your child has strep throat, your physician will start antibiotic treatment. Be sure your child takes the antibiotic prescribed, as directed, and finishes the entire amount prescribed; otherwise the infection may not be completely cured.  Misuse of antibiotics jeopardizes the usefulness of essential drugs and contributes to drug resistance.  Antibiotic resistance is of particular concern in children because they have the highest rate of infections caused by antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
  • Remember, hand washing is the single most important step you can take to prevent spread of the infection, especially after wiping the child’s nose and before eating or preparing food. Teach your child to cover his or her mouth when sneezing or coughing, as well as the importance of hand washing.
  • If your child has strep throat, he or she should not return to child care or to school until antibiotic treatment has been taken for at least one full day.

For additional information:

  • Discuss with your physician.
  • Contact Affinity NurseDirect at 1-800-362-9900 toll-free, (920) 738-2230 in the Fox Cities, or (920) 231-6578 in Oshkosh.

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Adapted from: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 
Reviewed: 1/07
Reviewer:  rfc

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