Strep throat is a relatively common childhood illness. However, in spite of parents being well versed in the signs and symptoms of strep throat, there are some common misconceptions and it behooves parents to separate fact from fiction.
Fact: Not all sore throats are strep throat
In fact the majority of sore throats are due to a viral illness. Runny nose, cough, and congestion will accompany a sore throat in these cases. True, bona fide strep throat is a bacterial infection and typically presents with a high fever, headache, loss of appetite, stomach ache and a severely sore throat.
It's not uncommon for some children to merely complain of a headache, fever, and loss of appetite only to discover a red/swollen throat with red spots (and/or white) exudate upon inspection.
Fiction: Scarlet fever is a really dangerous form of strep throat
Not to be confused with rheumatic fever (a potential complication of untreated strep throat), scarlet fever is merely what we call strep throat with a fine/red sandpaper like rash on the body. It's treated the same way as regular run of the mill strep throat, except the itchiness of the rash can be intense and annoying.
My poor son recently had this and was itching like crazy.
Tip for itchiness relief^Calm the itchy rash with a tepid Aveno Oatmeal bath followed with a hypoallergenic body cream. Some children may need an oral antihistamine such as Claritin or Benadryl to help with the itch, especially at night.
Fact: Strep throat must be treated with antibiotics
Once diagnosed via a rapid strep test or throat culture, your child's doctor will prescribe a 10 day course of antibiotics. Although strep throat will start to get better on its own, treatment is essential in preventing serious complications (such as rheumatic fever and glomerulonephritis) and decreasing the likelihood of spreading the infection.
Fiction: You can't get strep throat twice
I wish this were true, but unfortunately, it's not. During the school year, kids are notorious for getting one strep throat infection after another, since the bacteria is so contagious and prevalent. Some kids will complete a course of antibiotics only to turn around and come down with strep throat again. The best prevention is diligent hand washing and not sharing eating and drinking utensils. Also, be sure your child completes the full course of his/her antibiotics.
In some cases, children can be Group A strep carriers. They may mistakenly be diagnosed as having strep when in fact the simply have a virus. If you think your child may be a strep carrier, talk to your child's doctor.
A concerning complication: PANDAS
Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS) is gaining attention as a post streptococcal complication. Onset or exacerbation of OCD like behaviors or a tic disorder are the primary symptoms. Treatment is aimed at eradicating the strep bacteria with antibiotics and of course requires specialist intervention and care.
Dr. Mom's Bottom Line^ For most children with strep throat, a swift diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics should get your child back on track within a few short days.