What Should You Do if You Think Your Child Has Strep?

By Rebekah Richards
Tom Le Goff/Photodisc/Getty Images

Strep throat is a contagious disease caused by the bacteria Group A streptococcus. Children between the age of 5 and 15 are most likely to get strep throat, which usually causes a sore throat, fever and stomach pain. However, most sore throats are caused by viral infections, not the strep bacteria, according to KidsHealth.org. If you think your child has strep, take her to a pediatrician for an accurate diagnosis.

Symptoms

Children who have strep usually have a sore throat that makes it painful to swallow. They may have white patches on their throat and swollen glands in their neck. Strep can also cause a fever, which is usually highest on the second day, according to MedlinePlus. Other symptoms of strep throat include headache, nausea, stomach pain, rash and loss of appetite. Sore throats caused by viral infections rather than the strep bacteria may be accompanied by sneezing, watery eyes, coughing and a runny nose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Diagnosing Strep

If your child has symptoms of strep throat, the doctor will probably swab her throat with a cotton swab and do a rapid strep test. If the test is positive, she has strep throat. If the rapid strep test is negative, your doctor may culture the cotton swab to determine whether strep bacteria grows from it. This takes one to two days, according to MedlinePlus. Getting an accurate diagnosis is essential because sore throats caused by viral infections should not be treated with antibiotics.

Treatment

Strep throat is treated with antibiotics, usually penicillin or amoxicillin, according to MedlinePlus. Although children usually feel better within a day or two, it's important to finish the antibiotics to prevent symptoms from returning. Replace your child's toothbrush after she starts antibiotics and is no longer contagious, recommends KidsHealth.org. Children can also drink warm liquids such as tea or suck on popsicles to relieve throat pain and avoid dehydration. Strep throat is contagious, so ask your child's doctor when she can go back to school.

Warning

If strep throat isn't treated or if your child doesn't finish all of the prescribed antibiotics, conditions such as rheumatic fever, kidney disease, blood infections and scarlet fever may develop. Contact your child's pediatrician if she does not start feeling better 24 to 48 hours after taking antibiotics. In addition, always call a doctor if a child younger than 3 months old has a fever.

Prevention

Prevent your child from infecting other members of your family by keeping toothbrushes, dishes and utensils separate. Don't let your child share food, drinks or towels with others. In addition, teach children to cover their mouth when they sneeze or cough and to wash their hands frequently.

About the Author

Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at tolerance.org. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.