Your Kids, Strep and Strep Throat

strep throat examStrep infections are caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus Pyogenes and can range from mild to very severe and, at times, life threatening. The bacteria enter the human body by one of three ways: airborne, direct touch, or circulating through the blood stream and seeding into various organs. The most common illnesses we see in children are those that are airborne or acquired by direct touch and cause mild to moderate illnesses.

Some forms of impetigo, a superficial skin infection, can be caused by strep or staph and, while contagious to touch, can be easily treated and will not cause any subsequent problems

The more well known infection is that causing tonsillitis, an infection in the tissue of the tonsils, those lumps of pink tissue just behind and above the tongue when you open your mouth wide. This is also contagious and travels from untreated person to person through air droplets. Usually in the winter time, the person becomes ill rather rapidly, over 1-2 days with some combination of sore throat, fever, headache, generalized tiredness, muscle pains, trouble swallowing, and sometimes tender swollen glands in the front and side of your neck, up under the jaw. Often times the symptoms are mild but almost always eventually results in severe sore throat as the primary symptom. Children under the age of two years old seldom get significant illness.

When your Doctor examines your child he may find any combination of red swollen tonsils occasionally with white or grey pus on the surface, tender swollen glands in the neck, foul breath, fine red rash all over, and occasional red tongue with a rash on it.

The diagnosis can be made easily in the office by a rapid throat swab test which is positive in about 85% of people with significant strep throat. If your Doctor finds a negative rapid test and really feels that your child has strep throat he/she may elect to have a culture done on the same swab and even begin an antibiotic. The culture test can take 48 hours for the results.

There are many antibiotics that can successfully treat strep throat* and relief from symptoms is felt by your child within 24-48 hours. The reason that strep throat is treated at all is that in a very small percentage of patients with untreated strep throat there can arise certain serious illnesses that might lead to heart damage or kidney damage. If left untreated, this illness would go away on its own over a 3 – 5 day period, just like a cold. In general, ten days of medication is necessary but occasionally that time can be shortened depending on the antibiotic used: it is important for your child to complete the entire course of the antibiotic as prescribed by your Doctor. Usually within 24 – 48 hours of onset of treatment there are no more strep bacteria in the throat and your child may return to school.

Once the treatment has been completed, the illness is over.

This does not mean that your child cannot get strep throat again by contacting someone with active untreated strep infection, but the chances of acquiring those serious secondary problems has been reduced to nearly 0.


* It is of interest to note that although strep throat is a very common illness and the strep bacteria has been exposed to more antibiotics than most other bacteria, strep alone has remained sensitive to just about all of the antibiotics used. Other bacteria develop rapid resistances to antibiotics they are repeatedly exposed to.

About the Author

Dr. Joseph Skoloff received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his medical degree from The Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He is a past Vice Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, a past Chairman of the Infection Control Committee at the Loudoun Hospital Center and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In his 41 years as a practicing pediatrician he has kept hundreds of kids and families healthy and safe and plans to continue to do so for years to come. Dr. Joe believes strongly in the combined power of parent and physician working together for the health of their children. He is an advocate for children everywhere and and adheres strongly to the principles of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


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