My kindergartner is complaining of a sore throat. How can I tell if they have strep throat?

Every fall, school kids come into my office with strep throat or strep pharyngitis. The illness seems to happen when students return to classes and it is especially common in children ages 5-15 years old. The challenge is to determine if your child has a sore throat or strep throat, and if their illness is caused by a bacteria or a virus.

Your child will usually report a sore throat as feeling scratchy or as having a burning sensation. They will likely not want to eat food because it just doesn’t feel good to have food go down a sore throat so you may want to assume that they will not be eating normally. However, it is very important that your child drink plenty of fluids when they are ill. Offer your child a small amount of fluids – one ounce every hour is a good general guideline for most children.

In addition to having a sore throat, a child with strep throat will often also complain of a head ache, stomach ache, fever and an overall sense of not feeling well. Some children with strep throat will also vomit once or twice. The problem with all of these symptoms is that these symptoms can also be present when a child has a sore throat caused by a virus. However, children with sore throats caused by a virus will usually also have runny nose and coughing.

Strep throat is caused by a bacteria called Group A Streptococcus and it is very important that your doctor confirm that your child has “Group A Strep” prior to beginning treatment.

The easiest way to confirm that your child has a strep infection is with a rapid strep test. It can be done at your pediatrician’s office. Your doctor will take a soft cotton swab and take some of the bacteria from the back of your child’s throat. Then a five minute test performed right in the office will confirm if your child has strep throat. Occasionally, the rapid strep test results will be negative. When this happens, your pediatrician will send the specimen to the lab so that it can be processed at the lab. Many pediatricians use a double swab so if the rapid strep is negative, the second swab is ready to send to the lab. This makes this test much easier.

If your child is confirmed to have strep throat, your doctor will prescribe a 10-day course of oral amoxicillin. Your child should stay home for a full 24 hours after starting oral antibiotics. The bacteria that causes strep throat is contagious and can be easily passed on to other children and adults. While there are some natural remedies available, it is important to complete all 10 days of the amoxicillin so that your child will not have any complications. These complications are rare but can affect your child’s heart or your child’s kidneys.

Most children recover from this common type of throat infection without any long term issues. Please visit your CPCMG pediatrician right away if you suspect your child has strep throat so that they can be treated promptly and effectively.