runny nose, sore throat and cough-these are some of the symptoms that
you may experience during cold and flu season. However, when is a
scratchy throat just an annoying side effect of the common cold or a
sign of a more serious illness, such as strep throat?
It is estimated
that 80 percent of sore throats are caused by viruses, and 10 to 20
percent are caused by Streptococcus, the bacterium that causes strep
throat. A respiratory infection, such as strep, spreads easily when
people are in close contact with one another, such as in an office
setting or a college dormitory. However, strep is more commonly seen in
children between 5 and 11 years of age.
"Anytime your child
has persistent sore throat, even if they do not have other symptoms like
a runny nose or fever, you should call your pediatrician," said Kelley
Taylor, MD, FCAP, a pathologist from Atlanta, Ga. "If left untreated,
strep can develop into a more serious-and sometime life-threatening
condition, such as rheumatic fever or kidney failure."
Symptoms of strep
throat can vary depending on a child's age and are similar to those of
the common cold. Some of the common symptoms, according to the National
Institute of Health, include:
* Sore throat
* Difficulty swallowing
* Lack of appetite
* Swollen glands
If a sore throat is
accompanied with a rash or if a child has difficulty breathing or
extreme trouble swallowing, this could indicate a more serious illness
and immediate medical attention is required.
"It's difficult to
definitively diagnose whether a person has a virus or strep throat
simply by examining the patient," said Dr. Taylor, a physician who
diagnoses patients with illness such as strep throat through laboratory
medicine. "That's why it's important for patients to visit their
physician and receive the proper testing so that a positive diagnosis
can be made."
If strep throat is
suspected, a physician or other medical care provider will perform a
throat culture by swabbing a patient's tonsils and back of the throat.
The smear is then dipped into a special culture dish that allows the
strep bacteria to grow. Then, the test is processed in a laboratory and
requires about 24-hours to produce results. Some medical care providers
will perform a rapid strep test, which provides results within minutes.
While this test can provide patients with a positive result quickly, a
negative test needs to be confirmed with the 24-hour culture.
People with strep
throat should receive antibiotics in case it is one of the dangerous
strains of strep throat that can go on to damage organs. The Center for
Disease Control and Prevention states that it is important for a person
with strep to complete the entire prescription of antibiotics-even after
the symptoms are gone.
information, about how to prevent disease, visit the College of American
Pathologists at www.cap.org.