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"It could be strep throat."

Have you ever heard a doctor or your mom say that when you're sick and you have a sore throat? Strep throat is a disease caused by tiny egg-shaped bacteria (say: bak-teer-ee-uh) called group A streptococci (say: strep-toe-kah-kye). These bacteria cause 15%-20% of all sore throats and are found in your throat and on your skin.

If a kid has strep throat, the doctor will probably give him or her medicine called an antibiotic, which will kill the strep bacteria. That's good news because sometimes strep throat can get worse and cause problems with other parts of a kid's body. In rare cases, untreated strep can cause arthritis (say: ar-thry-tis) or heart problems from a disease called rheumatic (say: roo-mat-ick) fever.

Most of the time kids get the medicine they need and recover from strep throat very quickly. After taking the medicine for 24 hours, you will feel a lot better and will no longer be contagious. However, it is really important to take all 10 days of the medicine to make sure you have treated the infection.

How Do I Get It?

If someone in your family or at school has strep throat, there is a chance you might get it. Strep throat is spread when healthy people come into contact with someone who has it. When a person with strep throat sneezes or blows his or her nose and you are nearby, or if you share the same forks, spoons, or straws, the bacteria can spread to you.

If you get strep throat, you'll start to feel sick within 5 days after you were around the person who gave it to you.

What Will the Doctor Do?

Your doctor will look into your mouth to see if your throat is red and your tonsils are swollen and covered with white or yellow spots. He or she will also look for small red spots on the roof of your mouth. Most of the time, strep will give you a sore throat, headache, stomachache, and fever. Typically strep will not give you a runny nose or cough, and occasionally it won't give you any specific symptoms.

Strep Test Video Image

To be sure that what you have is strep throat, your doctor may do one or two tests. First, he or she can do a rapid strep test to check for strep bacteria by rubbing a cotton swab over the back of your throat. With this test, the doctor may be able to find out in less than 1 hour if you have strep throat.

If the first test doesn't prove anything, then your doctor might do a longer test called a throat culture. A swab from your throat will then be rubbed on a special dish and the dish will be left to sit for 2 nights. If you have strep throat, streptococci bacteria will usually grow in the dish within 1-2 days.

How Can I Get Better?

If you have strep throat, your doctor will give you an antibiotic (say: an-tye-bye-ah-tik), a medicine that kills bacteria. Usually the antibiotic used for strep throat is a form of penicillin (say: pen-ih-sil-in). You will take penicillin as a pill, a liquid, or a shot.

To make sure the bacteria go away completely and don't spread to other parts of your body, you must finish all of the medicine. Your doctor will have you take the pills or liquid for about a week.

Your mom or dad may give you acetaminophen (say: uh-see-tuh-min-uh-fin) to get rid of aches, pains, and fever. You'll want to have soothing drinks, like tea and warm chicken soup. It's best to avoid spicy and acidic foods, such as orange juice, because they could irritate your tender throat.

Your doctor will tell you to stay home from school until you have been taking the antibiotic for at least 24 hours. This way, you won't spread the bacteria to others.

How Can I Prevent Strep Throat?

If someone in your house has strep throat, you might get it. But you can take these steps to prevent it:

  • Make sure the person with strep throat covers his or her mouth when sneezing and coughing.
  • Don't handle used tissues or other germy items.
  • Wash your hands regularly, especially before cooking and eating.
  • Wash dishes, drinking glasses, knives, forks, and spoons in hot, soapy water.
  • Keep sores and cuts clean because strep can get in your skin and cause problems, too.

Strep throat is no fun, but after feeling sick for 2 or 3 days, most kids start feeling better. In other words, they feel less streppy and more peppy!

Reviewed by: Nicole Green, MD
Date reviewed: October 2009
Originally reviewed by: Ellen Deutsch, MD

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Related Resources

  • BrainPop
    This is a great site for kids with informational movies about science, anatomy, weather, and more.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    The mission of the CDC is to promote health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability. Call: (800) CDC-INFO