WHEN a child presents with a dry, achy throat, your first reflex may be to diagnose a sore throat and proceed to treat with over-the-counter drugs. But a sore throat, according to paediatrician Dr Anona Griffith, may only be the symptom of the group A streptococcus bacterial infection known as Strep.
“Most sore throats are caused by viruses, but bacteria also remain a significant cause. Strep throat is a painful bacterial infection of the throat which is passed on by person-to-person contact, transferred by way of the droplet or by the inhaled route. It is often characterised by inflammation and swollen tonsils,” Dr Griffith said.
She explained that the pain is often worse when swallowing, and as such children may have decreased appetite, refuse to eat because of the associated discomfort, and/or may request cooler liquids rather than warm liquids or solid foods. Dr Griffith said that the child may also have a fever and swelling of the glands or lymph nodes in the neck area.
She pointed out that the child may have a history of contact with the germ up to three weeks prior to the onset of the infection and may present with other symptoms associated with infection such as:
• A fever that is higher and sustained for a prolonged period.
• If white or yellow secretions are observed on the tonsils and red spots on the back of the roof of the mouth.
• A skin rash known as scarlet fever, which is caused by the same germ, may be present at the time of the fever.
• In some cases, children present with stomach aches.
While these signs are usually accurate, Dr Griffith said that you should confirm this with your child's physician, who if unsure can confirm the presence of the bacteria with a rapid test that can detect substances produced by the germ or by way of a culture swab. More accurate results can take up to 48 hours.
“Strep throat is treated with a course of antibiotics to avoid complications of the infection. Some complications may be as a result of direct spread of the infection to areas such as the middle ear, as well as bacteraemia (the presence of bacteria in the blood) and sepsis, sinusitis and tonsillitis,” Dr Griffith outlined.
Also, there is the possibility of other inflammatory reactions produced by the body in response to the bacteria, such as glomerulonephritis, which is an inflammation of the kidneys, and rheumatic fever, which affects the heart. It may also cause other issues such as joint pain and tenderness, or uncontrollable body movements.
“Preventing the spread of the germs can be difficult, especially among children who attend preschool and daycare, since they aren't fully capable of protecting themselves, and their immune systems are so weak. Parents and guardians can, however, put precautionary measures in place,” Dr Griffith advised.
As soon as you realise that your child may be infected, keep him/her at home to prevent the infection from being passed to others.
Hygiene is the mainstay of managing the transmission of this germ, so parents, guardians and caregivers will have to clean surfaces and encourage good hygienic habits such as hand washing with soap and water.
Encourage your child to cover his/her mouth and nose when sneezing. This should not be done with an open hand, but into the elbow or covered ideally with a disposable tissue or towel.