Sore throat is attributable to a streptococcal infection in 10% of cases in adults and 15 to 30% of cases in children. Stay vigilant!
Streptococcal pharyngitis (Strep throat)
The winter months are conducive to the spread of respiratory infections, which are often caused by a virus. The most commonly known viral infection is the cold, which is generally characterized by sneezing, watery eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, and a sore throat.
In most cases, pharyngitis, or throat inflammation, is caused by a virus. Moreover, it is the most common cause of throat inflammation in children under age five. However, pharyngitis can also be caused by bacteria—Group A streptococcus (GAS). GAS pharyngitis is associated with:
- fever (above 38°C)
- nausea or vomiting
- difficulty swallowing
- a sudden sore throat
- swollen tonsils with pus deposit
- small red spots on the roof of the mouth, and
- swollen glands in the neck
Symptoms appear 24 to 72 hours following contamination by bacteria. Paradoxically, a person can be a carrier of streptococcus without developing the illness.
The spread of strep throat
Carriers of GAS are contagious even though they do not develop the illness. Bacteria can be transmitted in the same way as the cold virus, such as:
- sneezing, and
- contact with the infected person's saliva or secretions
A person can be contagious for 7 to 10 days after having contracted the bacteria. This represents the acute phase of the illness. Without antibiotic treatment, the communicability period can last for 21 days. However, if an antibiotic is administered, the risk of spreading the bacteria to someone else is reduced to 24 hours.
An increase of GAS pharyngitis is observed at the end of winter and at the beginning of spring. Children and adolescents between ages 5 and 15 are most affected by these infections.
Strep throat diagnosis
There is one basic premise to remember in the case of respiratory tract infections: antibiotics are highly effective drugs in fighting bacteria. Unfortunately, they have no effect on viruses. Since pharyngitis is often caused by a virus, the doctor must determine the source of the pharyngitis before deciding on a treatment.
There are two tests available:
- A throat culture: is a swab of the secretions on the tonsils taken to determine the presence of bacteria. The result is known after 24 to 48 hours. This is the reference standard.
- Rapid antigen detection: a swab is taken inside the throat to detect the presence of substances associated to GAS. The result is obtained faster (within 15 minutes), but is not as accurate.
Steptococcal pharyngitis treatment
Because this infection is caused by bacteria, an antibiotic treatment can be used.
As experts, pharmacists are your main reference regarding medication. If you are prescribed an antibiotic treatment, they can advise you about:
- how to take the medication
- dosage and the duration of treatment
- possible side effects
- risk of drug interactions with drugs or foods
- precautions to be taken, and
- parameters to watch out for
Your pharmacist can also suggest over-the-counter medications designed to relieve sore throat, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Before purchasing a product, always ask the advice of your pharmacist, who will be able to indicate which one is the most suitable for you by taking into account your age, medical history, health, and the other medications you take.
If the product is for a child, the pharmacist will indicate the dose to be given according to the child's weight and will specify how to measure it if it is in a liquid format.
Your pharmacist can also provide other advice.
Because Group A streptococcus can be transmitted from one person to another, it is crucial to apply the following prevention measures:
- sneeze into the crook of your elbow or in a tissue
- wash your hands often with soap and water if you are affected by GAS pharyngitis or in the presence of an infected person
- carefully disinfect toys, faucets, and door handles with an antibacterial cleaning solution
- do not send your child to daycare or school unless he/she has been under antibiotic treatment for 24 hours, and
- avoid reinfection by changing your toothbrush 24 hours after starting an antibiotic treatment
Speak to your pharmacist for additional information about Steptococcal pharyngitis.