The Scoop on Strep Throat
“It could be strep throat.”
Have you ever heard a doctor or your mom say that when you’re sick and have a sore throat? Strep throat is a disease caused by a tiny ball-shaped type of bacteria (say: bak-TEER-ee-uh) called group A streptococcus (say: strep-tuh-KAH-kus). These bacteria cause up to 30% of all sore throats and are found in your throat and on your skin.
If a kid has strep throat, the doctor will give him or her medicine called an antibiotic (say: an-tye-bye-AH-tik), which will kill the strep bacteria. That’s good news because sometimes strep throat can get worse and cause problems with other parts of a kid’s body. For example, untreated strep can cause arthritis (say: ar-THRY-tis) or heart problems from a disease called rheumatic (say: roo-MA-tick) fever.
Most of the time kids get the medicine they need and recover from strep throat very quickly. After taking the medicine for 24 hours, you will feel a lot better and will no longer be contagious. It is really important to take all 10 days of the medicine to make sure you have treated the infection.
How Do I Get It?
If someone in your family or at school has strep throat, there is a chance you might get it. Strep throat is spread when healthy people come into contact with someone who has it. The bacteria can spread to you when a person with strep throat sneezes or blows his or her nose and you are nearby, or if you share the same forks, spoons, or straws.
If you get strep throat, you’ll start to feel sick within 5 days after you were around the person who gave it to you.
What Will the Doctor Do?
Your doctor will look into your mouth. What is he or she looking for?
- a red throat
- swollen tonsils
- white or yellow spots on your tonsils
- small red spots in the roof of your mouth
Most of the time, strep will give you a sore throat, headache, stomachache, and fever. Typically strep will not give you a runny nose or cough, and occasionally it won’t give you any specific symptoms.
To be sure you have strep throat, your doctor may do one or two tests.
First, he or she can do a rapid strep test to check for strep bacteria. The doctor takes a sample by rubbing a cotton swab over the back of your throat. With this test, the doctor may be able to find out in a few minutes if you have strep throat.
If the first test doesn’t prove anything, your doctor might do a longer test called a throat culture. Again, the doctor will take a sample using a cotton swab. This time, the sample goes on a special dish and is left to sit for 2 nights. If you have strep throat, the bacteria will usually grow in the dish within 1-2 days.
How Can I Get Better?
If you have strep throat, your doctor will give you an antibiotic, a medicine that kills bacteria. Usually the antibiotic used for strep throat is a form of penicillin (say: peh-neh-SIL-in). To make sure the bacteria go away completely and don’t spread to other parts of your body, you must finish all of the medicine. Your doctor will have you take the pills or liquid for 10 days.
Your mom or dad may give you acetaminophen (say: uh-see-tuh-MIN-uh-fin) to get rid of aches, pains, and fever. You’ll want to have soothing drinks, like tea and warm chicken soup. Frozen foods such as ice cream or popsicles also can help to ease throat pain. It’s best to avoid spicy and acidic foods, such as orange juice, because they could hurt your tender throat.
Your doctor will tell you to stay home from school until you have been taking the antibiotic for at least 24 hours. This way, you won’t spread the bacteria to others.
How Can I Prevent Strep Throat?
If someone in your house has strep throat, you might get it. But following these tips can help protect you:
- Make sure the person with strep throat covers his or her mouth when sneezing and coughing.
- Don’t handle used tissues or other germy items.
- Wash your hands regularly, especially before cooking and eating.
- Wash dishes, drinking glasses, knives, forks, and spoons in hot, soapy water.
- Keep sores and cuts clean because strep can get in your skin and cause problems, too.
Strep throat is no fun, but after feeling sick for 2 or 3 days, most kids start getting back to normal. In other words, they feel less streppy and more peppy!
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: June 2014