Sore throats are par for the course for young children, but a bacterial infection called strep throat could cause serious complications if left untreated.
Johannesburg-based Dr Mary Rouhani, says a sore throat and a strep throat are different. A strep throat is caused by a particularly virulent species of the Streptococcus bacteria. The infection is contracted “about three days after contact” and while most cases are mild, it can develop into a more severe infection. It is most common in children between the ages of five and 15, but anyone can be affected.
Read our article on croup, which is caused by a cold or viral infection.
Someone with a strep throat infection will have a sore throat with the following additional symptoms:
- a high fever
- a red tongue and pharynx
- a whitish coating on the tonsils and at the back of the throat
- nausea and vomiting, with a poor appetite
- a headache
- abdominal pain
However, many of these symptoms are similar to those of other viral infections. “The only distinguishing feature is the presence of tender swollen glands in the neck,” says Dr Rouhani. Other warning signs may include:
- a fine rash
- a diffuse pink-red flush on the skin that pales on pressure and is absent around the mouth
- fine red spots on the palate
Dr Rouhani says the following people are at risk of developing more severe strep throat infections:
- children with chickenpox
- anyone with a suppressed immune system
- anyone taking steroid treatment or undergoing chemotherapy
Read more about treating winter’s colds and flu.
If you think that you or your child has strep throat, visit your doctor for a throat swab to diagnose the infection. If it is strep throat, and if the infection is severe enough, you should take “the appropriate antibiotic in the correct dosage,” says Dr Rouhani. This will usually follow a 10-day course. Keep your child home from daycare or school until they have been on antibiotics for at least a day.
While this infection will often clear up on its own within a few days, the antibiotics will shorten the period of contagion and reduce the risk of the infection spreading to other parts of the body. Rouhani also suggests taking supportive treatments, such as painkillers, while avoiding irritants like hot drinks. Also, get your child a new toothbrush as it may include bacteria that could cause a re-infection once the antibiotics are finished.
If a severe case of strep throat is left untreated, complications such as rheumatic fever, valvular heart disease and inflammation of the kidneys may develop. “It is very important for strep throat to be diagnosed and treated correctly,” advises Dr Rouhani.