Sore Throat: Is it Viral or Something More?

Its a common complaint by a child, Mom, my throat hurts. The quandary for many parents is why does it hurt? Is it a virus or something more? For some infections, like strep throat, that question can be difficult to determine without help.

Group A streptococcus or strep throat is the cause of a sore throat in about three out of every 10 children and its more common in late fall and early spring, says Josephine Dlugopolski-Gach, pediatrician at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. The difficult part is that strep doesnt always present in the same way and some strep carriers are asymptomatic.

Many schools are seeing outbreaks of strep throat with some students being infected multiple timesas many as three separate infections in less than two months.

I have seen kids who have improved after taking the full course of antibiotic only to be infected again. You dont become immune to this infection so you can get it over and over again, Dlugopolski says. It is extremely important for parents to keep their children home when they are sick. If they are diagnosed with strep a child needs to be on an antibiotic and without a fever for 24 hours before going back to school, Dlugopolski said.

Though its difficult to discern strep throat in all ages, its hardest in children who are ages 5 and younger since they are not as capable of communicating about their symptoms.

I had a family that was in and out of my office with strep throat for months and we couldnt figure out where it was coming from. Finally, they took the family dog to the vet and found out he had strep and they were getting it from him. When trying to find out the source of strep dont leave any rock unturned, Dlugopolski says.

Some common symptoms of strep throat include:
Fever over 101º F
Severe sore throat
Pain when swallowing
Swollen tonsils and lymph nodes
White or yellow spots on the back of a bright red throat

Other possible symptoms are:
Headache
Belly pain
Vomiting
Not feeling hungry
Body aches
Red skin rash

Rarely do children get all these symptoms, but one good indicator that your child may have strep is to determine if he or she has come in contact with someone with strep. But, the only way to know for sure is to make an appointment with your doctor who can run a simple test in the office to determine if the infection is viral or strep throat, says Dluglopolski. There is a small chance of strep leading to rheumatic fever which infects the heart valves and can cause kidney damage so take it seriously and talk to your doctor.

Source: Loyola University Health System (LUHS)

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