Symptoms of strep throat, which is very common among kids and teens, include fever, stomach pain, and red, swollen tonsils.
Strep throat usually requires treatment with antibiotics. With the proper medical care — along with plenty of rest and fluids — a child should be back to school and play within a few days.
How Strep Throat Spreads
Anybody can get strep throat, but it's most common in school-age kids and teens. These infections occur most often during the school year when big groups of kids and teens are in close quarters.
The bacteria that cause strep throat (group A streptococcus) tend to hang out in the nose and throat, so normal activities like sneezing, coughing, or shaking hands can easily spread infection from one person to another. Someone whose strep throat isn't treated is most likely to spread the infection when the symptoms are most severe, but can still infect others for up to 3 weeks.
That's why it's so important to teach kids the importance of hand washing — good hygiene can lessen their chances of getting contagious diseases like strep throat.
Strep Throat vs. Sore Throat
Not all sore throats are strep throats. Most episodes of sore throat — which can be accompanied by a runny nose, cough, hoarseness, and red eyes — are caused by viruses and usually clear up on their own without medical treatment.
A child with strep throat will start to develop other symptoms within about 3 days, such as:
- red and white patches in the throat
- difficulty swallowing
- tender or swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
- red and enlarged tonsils
- lower stomach pain
- general discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling
- loss of appetite and nausea
If your child has a sore throat and other strep throat symptoms, call your doctor. The doctor will likely do a rapid strep test in the office, using a cotton swab to take a sample of the fluids at the back of the throat. The test only takes about 5 minutes.
If it's positive, your child has strep throat. If it's negative, the doctor will send a sample to a lab for a throat culture. The results are usually available within a few days.
In most cases, doctors prescribe about 10 days of antibiotic medication to treat strep throat. Within about 24 hours after starting on antibiotics, your child will probably no longer have a fever and won't be contagious; by the second or third day, other symptoms should start to go away.
Even if your child feels better, he or she should continue to take the antibiotics as prescribed. Otherwise, bacteria can remain in the throat and symptoms can return. Completing all the antibiotics the doctor prescribed is the best way to prevent other health problems that can be caused by a strep infection, such as rheumatic fever (which can permanently damage the heart), scarlet fever, blood infections, or kidney disease.
To prevent your sick child from spreading strep throat to others in your home, keep his or her eating utensils, dishes, and drinking glasses separate and wash them in hot, soapy water after each use. Also, your child shouldn't share food, drinks, napkins, handkerchiefs, or towels with other family members.
Make sure your child covers all sneezes or coughs (if a tissue isn't handy, kids should sneeze or cough into a shirtsleeve, not their hands) to prevent passing infectious droplets to others. Also, have your child use a new toothbrush after the antibiotic treatment starts and he or she is no longer contagious.
Caring for Your Child
You can help your child feel better while battling strep throat. Give plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration, such as water or ginger ale, especially if he or she has had a fever. Avoid orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemonade, or other acidic beverages, which can irritate a sore throat. Warm liquids like soups, sweetened tea, or hot chocolate can be soothing.
Talk to your doctor about when your child can return to school and other normal activities.
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: June 2014
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|First Aid: Sore Throat Sore throats are usually caused by viruses. Here's what to do if your child has a sore throat.|
|Scarlet Fever Scarlet fever is an illness with a characteristic rash that is caused by a strep infection. Learn important facts about scarlet fever in this article for parents, including how to recognize its symptoms.|
|Tonsillitis Tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils caused by an infection, causes sore throat, fever, swollen glands in the neck, and trouble swallowing.|
|Strep Test: Rapid A rapid strep test is done to help quickly determine whether a sore throat is caused by a strep infection vs. other germs (usually viruses) that don't require antibiotic treatment.|
|A to Z Symptoms: Sore Throat A sore throat can be caused by many things, from viral and bacterial infections to seasonal allergies and GERD.|
|Tonsils and Tonsillectomies Not everyone knows what tonsils do or why they may need to be removed. Knowing the facts can help alleviate the fears of both parents and kids facing a tonsillectomy.|
|Strep Test: Throat Culture Is your child having a strep test or a throat culture? Find out how these swab tests are performed.|
|Sinusitis Sinus infections, or sinusitis, are common and easily treated.|
|Fever and Taking Your Child's Temperature Although it can be frightening when your child's temperature rises, fever itself causes no harm and can actually be a good thing - it's often the body's way of fighting infections.|
|Pneumonia Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be caused by different types of germs, most commonly viruses. Read about the various types of pneumonia.|
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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