Crying, sickly babies and toddlers – is there anything more heartbreaking? Or frustrating? Nothing is worse than a child who is unwell. Knowing when to see a doctor and when to let an illness run its course is a challenge all parents face. But when your baby or toddler can’t communicate their feelings, it makes it all that much worse. Sometimes a sore throat can be just that. But others it can be far worse. Strep throat can account for up to half of all sore throat-related doctor visits, and can rip through a daycare or nursery school class like rapid fire. While young children tend to be the most affected, adults too can catch the Streptococcus bacteria. From signs and symptoms to treatment and relief, here are the top 15 things you need to know about strep throat.

12. What exactly is strep throat?

Streptococcal pharyngitis, or strep throat, is an infectious disease caused by numerous bacteria that occurs at the back of the throat, including the tonsils. It affects millions of people annually, mostly children but adults as well. Late winter and early spring is when the majority of cases are diagnosed, but it can affect people all year round.

11. What are the symptoms?

Generally, strep starts with a sore throat. The throat becomes raw and it hurts to swallow. Some people claim it feels like swallowing glass! Difficulty swallowing, nausea, fever over 101F and a general feeling of malaise can all be symptoms of strep throat. Swollen glands, or lymph nodes, on the neck, or swollen, reddened tonsils at the back of the throat can be symptoms. White patches of pus can also be indicative of strep.

10. What else could it be?

Strep throat can present symptoms that are similar to other infections, and it can be confusing to diagnose. If symptoms are accompanied by a runny nose, red eyes or a cough, then chances are your child has a cold, a virus, or, possibly, allergies. Strep throat is not a virus. Viruses cannot be cured with antibiotics and must simply run their course. Sometimes people confuse tonsillitis with strep. They have similar symptoms, and to make it even more confusing, strep can be a type of tonsillitis. However, tonsillitis can be caused symptom of viruses as well as various bacteria. Strep throat is caused specifically by one type of bacteria.

9. Is it Strep?

Or something worse? If your child has symptoms of strep, along with a red rash on the neck, underarm or groin area, this could mean your child may have developed scarlet fever, in which a doctor should be called immediately. Very rarely, a sub-species of bacteria referred to as group-B can also cause infections. Most women are tested for Group B strep when they are pregnant to determine whether they are carriers and, therefore, at risk of passing it on to the baby. If a mother is Group B positive, an antibiotic will be given during labor to prevent the spreading of the bacteria.

8. Is Strep Throat Contagious?

In a word: absolutely. Sneezing, coughing, handshakes, hugging and cuddles can all pass strep throat from one person to another. Daycares, schools, and even music and play classes where babies and toddlers are in close contact with others can increase the risk of catching strep throat. The infection is at it most contagious a few days before the actual symptoms appear, making it almost impossible to avoid until it’s too late. However, once it has been diagnosed and 24 hours after antibiotics have been administered, a person is no longer contagious.

7. What’s a Strep test?

If your child exhibits the symptoms of strep for more than 72 hours, it is likely that he or she may have strep throat. A doctor can test for bacteria with a rapid strep test. The back of the throat will be swabbed to take a sample and results can be seen in less than thirty minutes. If the test is negative, but the doctor still suspects strep, he or she will take more samples from the throat and tonsils and have them sent to a lab to rule out strep throat. It can take up to three days to obtain results.

6. How can I treat strep throat?

If your child is diagnosed with strep throat, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. Antibiotics only work on bacteria, not viruses – hence the strep test! Penicillin or amoxicillin are the antibiotics usually prescribed, as they are safe, relatively inexpensive and effective in the fight against strep. For those with a penicillin allergy, alternatives are available. Generally, antibiotics are taken by mouth several times a day, though occasionally a shot may be given.

5. What if I don’t treat Strep Throat?

The sooner your baby or toddler is diagnosed and treated for strep throat, the faster your child will feel better. Antibiotics can also reduce the duration of the illness. If left untreated, in many instances step throat will go away on its own within a week or so. However, your child will continue to feel unwell and exhibit symptoms of the infection. Additionally, he or she will be contagious for up to three weeks even if no further symptoms appear.

4. Are there complications associated with strep throat?

It is very important to properly diagnose and treat strep throat to avoid being contagious to other people. For young children and babies, it is essential to treat the infection to prevent far more serious complications such as kidney disease, rheumatic fever and other potentially life threatening diseases.

3. Is there any other relief for strep throat?

Over the counter medications can help lessen symptoms of strep throat such as pain and inflammation. For older children, lozenges and throat sprays can also quell inflammation and swollen glands. Rest is advised for patients of all ages and children should be kept home from school or childcare for at least 24 hours after starting treatment to fight the bacteria.

2. Are there any natural remedies for treatment of strep throat?

Gargling with salt water can help relieve a sore throat. Using a humidifier in your child’s bedroom will help keep their throat moist and keep their mouth from becoming dried out. Warm teas, clear soups can alleviate the pain of strep throat. Sucking on ice chips or eating frozen desserts not only help numb the pain of a sore throat but generally make most children a little happier! There are reports of apple cider vinegar being an effective throat rinse due to its antibacterial properties, but be sure to check with your doctor before relying solely on home remedies.

1. How can I prevent strep throat?

Three little words can help stop the spread of strep throat and other bacterial infections: Wash. Your. Hands. While it seems obvious, everyone should be washing their hands a lot more, especially when they are around other people. Toddlers should practice sneezing and coughing into their sleeves rather than their hands, and everyone should wash their hands before touching babies. If someone in your household does develop strep, make sure to clean all surfaces, such as doorknobs and drawer handles, and to avoid sharing cutlery, towels etc. And don’t forget to throw out the infected child’s toothbrush!