Strep throat is one of the most common childhood illnesses. Small white patches appear on one or both sides of the throat and a fever abruptly starts. Strep throat can lead to scarlet fever in rare cases. Most children have a strong enough immune system to fight off the infection without antibiotics, but antibiotics reduce the number of days a child is contagious.
Strep throat is caused by group A streptococcus bacteria. The bacteria are present in the throat at all times. It takes an injury or abrasion to the throat to trigger strep throat. Many doctors will ask parents to think back a week or so for any out of the ordinary coughing or sneezing that was harder than normal. Coughing or sneezing hard can cause small openings for strep bacteria. Strep throat is also caused by infection from another child. Strep throat is passed through sneezes and coughs.
The most common symptoms of strep throat include abdominal pain, fever, sore throat and difficulty swallowing. A child can come down with strep throat without having any symptoms for the first few days, but once symptoms arise, they can accelerate quickly. Parents may notice small, white spots in the throat. If you don't see any spots, do not rule out strep throat. Spots of infection can appear further down the throat, beyond where the naked eye can view.
Most doctors will take a brief history and list of complaints before taking a look in the throat. If there are white patches in the throat, the doctor will likely order a rapid strep test. This test requires the nurse to rub a long cotton swab on the white patch. The swab is then tested for strep bacteria. If white patches are not visible, the doctor may still order a strep test. If the strep test is negative, but the doctor has a gut feeling it is strep throat, antibiotics may be ordered.
Most cases of strep throat will go away within 7 to 10 days without medical intervention, but many parents choose to visit the family pediatrician for an antibiotic. Antibiotics fight the strep infection and relieve symptoms within 2 to 3 days. It is important to continue taking the antibiotic as instructed until the prescription is completely gone. Strep throat may recur if children stop taking antibiotics when symptoms disappear. It takes about 24 hours of antibiotics before children are no longer contagious.