How Do I Know If My Child Has Strep Throat?

If your child comes down with a sore throat that is accompanied by a fever and no other cold or flu symptoms, the chances are higher your child has contracted strep throat, the common name for an infection caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria.

“About a third of school-aged children’s sore throats are caused by the ‘strep’ bacteria,” says Ryan Coller, M.D., associate director of the pediatric residency training program at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. “These infections typically lack the symptoms of a common cold, so if your child suddenly has difficulty swallowing but does not have a runny nose, watery eyes and a cough, you should take him to the doctor.”

If strep throat is suspected, the doctor will perform a throat culture or a rapid strep test, where a cotton swab of the back of the throat will be taken to test for the strep bacteria. Although strep throat is contagious, it is easily treated with antibiotics for 10 days, or one antibiotic shot. Untreated strep infections can spread into the neck and skin and can also turn into rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease that can cause damage to the heart.

To prevent getting other people sick, it’s important to stay home for at least 24 hours until the antibiotics have had a chance to work. Because strep thrives in moist areas, such as the nose and throat, the infection easily spreads through sneezing and coughing. Hand-washing and avoiding contact with people who have strep throat are the best ways to prevent getting sick.

Have your child drink lots of cool liquids, especially if he or she has a fever, to avoid dehydration. Stay away from orange juice, lemonade and other acidic drinks because they can irritate the throat. Frozen foods, such as popsicles, can help to numb throat soreness. Warm liquids including soups, tea with honey, or hot chocolate can also be soothing.

Early Intervention

“Take your child to his or her doctor if you suspect strep throat. Symptoms may include fever, nausea, vomiting, swollen lymph glands, enlarged tonsils and red and white patches in the throat, but the definitive way to diagnose strep through a throat swab to test for the bacteria” Dr. Coller says.

Preventing the spread of strep

If your child has strep throat, there are several things you can do to prevent the illness from spreading to others. They include:

  • Make sure your child covers his mouth and nose during sneezes or coughs.
  • Keep eating utensils, food, napkins and towels separate from those of other family members.
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Give your child the entire course of antibiotics.
  • Keep your child home from school until he has started antibiotics and is fever-free for 24 hours.

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. UCLA Health pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. All health and health-related information contained in this publication is intended to be general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional.

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