Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

Strep Throat: Know the Symptoms & How to Treat It

Anyone can get strep throat, but, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is most common among children ages 5 to 15. While ‘strep season’ has historically spanned December through April with a peak in February, more recent data suggests the season is beginning sooner—August—and lasting longer—through May.

For parents, this means staying vigilant for signs of strep is essentially a year-round task.

Caused by a bacteria called A Streptococcus, strep throat is highly contagious and is spread through respiratory droplets in the air (think sneezing or coughing), as well as direct contact from sharing a glass or touching an infected individual’s mouth or nose. Most people who become infected start to show symptoms 2-5 after exposure.

Common symptoms include:

- Sore throat, often very red, that comes on quickly

- Pain when swallowing

- White spots on tonsils

- Tiny, red spots on the roof of the mouth

- Swollen tonsils

- Low-grade fever (up to 100.4°F)

- Fatigue

- Swollen lymph nodes on the front of the neck

- Headache, stomachache and sometimes vomiting, especially in younger children

In some cases, the infection may cause a rash on the neck, armpit, or groin.

Strep is diagnosed using one of two tests: rapid strep test or a throat culture. Both tests involve taking a swab of the throat. While a rapid test offers quick results—about 15 minutes—it’s not as comprehensive as a throat culture, which may take 24 hours to analyze. In fact, if a rapid test is negative but a patient’s symptoms suggest a strep, very often a throat culture will be ordered to confirm the results.

The standard treatment for strep is antibiotics. Patients typically start to feel better in one to two days after taking their first dose. It is very important to complete the full course of antibiotics even if the patient starts to feel better.

Home care includes:

- Take antibiotic as prescribed

- Throw away toothbrushes after taking antibiotic for 24 hours.

- Stay well hydrated

- Get plenty of rest

- Ice pops and throat lozenges (for older children)

- Running a cool mist humidifier

However, people with strep throat should stay home from school, daycare, or work only once their fever has subsided AND they’ve taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours.

While having a sore throat doesn’t sound like a big deal, having an A Streptococcus infection truly is. As a bacterial infection, it may not clear up on its own, and it can spread to other parts of the body. Left untreated, it can lead to kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever, a serious illness that can cause stroke and permanent damage to the heart.

If you suspect your child—or anyone—may have strep throat, contact your healthcare provider. A prompt diagnosis and treatment will help ensure what could be a short-term, minor ailment doesn’t develop into something more serious.


Kristin Andrew, FNP-BC, is a member of the care team at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Pediatrics


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