Streptococcus or “strep” is a common cause of sore throats in school aged children and adults. The hallmark symptoms of strep throat are the sudden onset of fever, sore throat, headache and vomiting. Tender swollen glands and a sandpaper-like rash are sometimes present. Strep can also cause skin infection (impetigo).
Strep is contagious especially among school classmates, athletic teammates and family members. Treating strep infections is important to prevent the development of rheumatic heart and kidney disease. These complications may occur approximately 3 weeks later if strep is not properly treated.
The diagnosis of strep throat is made by physical examination and a throat swab. Our laboratory utilizes a rapid and sensitive streptococcal antigen test in addition to (slower) throat cultures.
Fortunately, strep is very sensitive to many antibiotic drugs including penicillin. A few days of antibiotic by mouth will usually bring the child’s temperature to normal and alleviate most of the other symptoms. However, it is essential to complete 10 days of therapy. If treatment is stopped prematurely, the relapse rate is high, complications may occur and the whole process of treatment may have to be repeated. For this reason we sometimes treat strep throat with a one time, long acting penicillin shot.
It’s important to realize not all sore throats with fever are due to strep. Many viruses can cause similar symptoms. Examination and a throat swab can help to distinguish different causes of sore throat.
Your child may return to school after he has been treated with antibiotic for at least 24 hours and there is no fever for 24 hours.