Cold and Flu
Strep Throat Prevention and Treatments
Strep Throat Basics
Strep throat is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus). Symptoms include fever, sore throat, and trouble swallowing. Children may also experience vomiting, stomachache, and headache. Signs of strep throat are white dots or redness on the throat.
Strep throat isn’t just a sore throat—it’s highly contagious and can lead to serious complications. Here are a few tips for lowering your chances of catching and spreading strep throat, and what to do if you get it.
Wash Your Hands
Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of common infections like strep. It is especially helpful in places where germs spread easily, like hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.
Wash your hands throughout the day, especially before, during, and after food preparation, as well as before eating. Wash your hands well after using the bathroom or changing a diaper.
If you’re caring for someone who is ill, wash your hands before and after being near them. If you’re sick, wash your hands after sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose.
Make Hand Washing Count
Just running your hands under water for a few seconds isn’t enough to kill germs. Make it count! Wet your hands and lather up. Scrub your hands front and back, between your fingers, and under fingernails. Continue for at least 20 seconds – that’s about as long as it takes to sing the happy birthday song twice. Rinse well and wipe on a clean towel or use a hand dryer. Teach children the proper way to wash, too.
Handy Hand Sanitizers
Soap and water is best. But if you don’t have access to a sink, use a hand sanitizer. It’s not quite as good as soap and water, but if it’s made up of at least 60 percent alcohol, it can kill a lot – but not all – germs. When using a hand sanitizer, be sure to read and follow package directions. Carry some with you!
Around the House
There are some common sense things we can all do to prevent the spread of germs in our own homes. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, and teach your children to do the same. And remember to follow up coughs and sneezes with thorough handwashing. If someone in your household has strep, don’t share food, drinks, or place settings. Wash all dishes and kitchen utensils in hot soapy water, or use the dishwasher.
The most important treatment for strep throat is antibiotics, so if you have symptoms, see your doctor. All it takes is a simple throat culture to diagnose strep. With antibiotics, symptoms will improve quickly, usually within 24 to 48 hours. After 24 hours on antibiotics, you’re no longer considered contagious.
Your doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics that last up to two weeks. To prevent rheumatic fever and other serious side effects of strep throat, it’s important to finish all your medication, even after you feel better.
Alleviate Pain and Fever
While antibiotics are helping to stop the infection, you may want to do something to alleviate symptoms. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can ease a sore throat and reduce fever. Another way to soothe your throat is to gargle with warm salt water a few times a day.
Important Note: Don’t give aspirin to young children or teens with an infection, as a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome may occur.
Drink lots of water. It will keep you hydrated and moisten your sore throat so it’s easier to swallow. Choose foods that are soft and easy to swallow, like soup, yogurt, and ice cream. Citrus foods and spicy foods will probably irritate your already sore throat. If your child won’t eat, try putting food in the blender or offer gelatin or ice pops.
Rest is one of the most important things you can do to regain your strength. Make sure you get enough sleep at night and, if possible, stay home for a day or two and take it easy. Don’t engage in strenuous activities. Children should not go to school until they feel better.
A saline nasal spray or humidifier can help keep your mucous membranes moist and help you sleep. Avoid household irritants like smoke, cleaning products, and other chemicals that can irritate your throat and nasal passages.
A Word of Caution
Symptoms of strep throat sometimes go away on their own or with use of alternative treatments. However, strep can cause other serious illnesses, including rheumatic fever, which can lead to heart disease. Antibiotics are the only way to protect against rheumatic fever. This risk is greatest in children between the ages of four and 15.
According to NYU Langone Medical Center, rheumatic fever is rare in the U.S., since most people with strep throat are treated with antibiotics. In developing countries, however, it is a leading cause of heart disease.
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- Wash Your Hands. (2013, March 25). U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 21, 2013 from http://www.cdc.gov/features/handwashing