Strep Throat :: Parents Tips To Keep Children Strep-Free During Peak Months

With six out of 10 Pittsburgh-area elementary school students testing positive for strep throat in previous studies and another strep season approaching, Children?s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC wants families to take steps to avoid the painful and potentially dangerous infection.

Strep throat is most common in children in late fall, winter and early spring, according to Judith Martin, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Children?s and a nationally recognized strep expert. Infection from Group A Streptococci (GAS) ? the bacteria that causes strep throat ? is spread by person-to-person contact, which makes children highly susceptible to spreading and getting the infection at school.

Previously published research conducted by Dr. Martin and colleagues found that 60 percent of school-age children at a Pittsburgh area elementary school tested positive for strep at least once during the school year. Approximately one-third of infected children were carriers, meaning they had the bacteria in their throats but showed no symptoms of strep. A child can remain a carrier for as long as four years, but on average each child carries the infection for about three months.

?It is important for parents and physicians to be cognizant of the high rate of strep infections at this time of year and the fact that many children can be carriers,? said Dr. Martin, an associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. ?Even though a child appears healthy, he or she may be harboring strep. These children are not at risk for having some of the complications that can be associated with strep throat infections. However, if multiple members in a family continue to get strep over and over, everyone in the family should be tested to determine who might be a carrier.?

If left untreated, strep throat usually will get better on its own. But in rare circumstances it can lead to other, more serious complications, including rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can cause heart damage, arthritis and chorea (involuntary limb movement). Serious complications like rheumatic fever can be avoided if the strep infection is treated with antibiotics within nine days of contracting the bacteria.

?To avoid serious complications, children should be tested when symptoms appear, and for those who test positive for Group A streptococcus, treatment with antibiotics should begin immediately. Infected children should stay home from school or day care until 24 hours after taking an antibiotic, then, they no longer will be contagious,? Dr. Martin said.

Children?s offers these suggestions to protect children from strep throat:

Make sure hands are free of germs by washing them, especially after coughing and sneezing and before preparing foods or eating.

If a family member has a sore throat, make sure he or she sees a doctor to be tested.

If a child develops strep throat, throw away the toothbrush he or she used while contagious to prevent getting infected again. If this cannot be done, clean it by soaking the toothbrush in mouthwash.

Limit contact with an infected person who is not taking antibiotics.

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