Strep throat: treatment and prevention

Strep throat (streptococcal pharyngitis) is a bacterial infection which causes sore throat, fever, and swollen glands in the neck.  Strep throat is more common in school-aged children and adolescents. It’s rare in children under 3. With the correct medicine and a few prevention strategies, children recover easily.

How did my child get strep throat?

Kids (and adults) who get strep throat have usually been around another person who has it. The bacteria is spread in mucus or saliva from the nose or mouth when people sneeze, cough, or wipe their noses.  Sharing drinks and not washing hands are common among school-aged children and adolescents. For this reason, strep throat infections sometimes occur in clusters at schools.

How do you know it’s strep throat and not something else?

Studies have shown that doctors trying to diagnose strep just from looking is only 35-50% accurate (Stanford et al., 2012.)  There are lots of viruses that mimic strep throat, so it’s important to do a strep test.   To find out your child has strep throat, we can use a long Q-tip to get some of the saliva from the back of his or her throat. We have a quick test that tests to see if there are signs of the strep bacteria in the saliva.  The rapid test is 70-90% accurate in kids (Gurol et al., 2010.)

Sometimes we send the saliva to another lab for another type of test that takes longer.

How is strep throat treated?

In most cases of strep throat, your child will need to take 10 days of antibiotics.  It’s important to complete the entire course of antibiotics, even if he or she starts to feel better after only a few days.  In some cases, if strep throat is not treated completely, the bacteria can affect other areas of the body. These are more serious and sometimes require hospitalization. It’s also important to make sure your child gets a new toothbrush after being on antibiotics for a couple of days. The bacteria can live on the toothbrush and reinfect him or her if used after they take all of their antibiotics.

When will my child feel better?

Usually the symptoms of strep throat only last 3-4 days, but your child should start to feel better sooner with antibiotics. He or she will not be contagious after being on antibiotics for 24 hours.

Things you can give to ease your child’s sore throat:

  • Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen)

  • Chloraseptic sore throat numbing spray

  • Popsicles and cold foods or drinks

How can I prevent strep throat?

If you child has strep, he or she has a 25% chance of passing it to school-aged siblings (Shulman et al., 2012.) There are several things that can be done to prevent the spread.  These include:

  • Frequent hand washing

  • Not drinking after other people

  • Taking all of the medication prescribed


Shulman, S., Bisno, Al, Clegg, H., Gerber, M., Kaplan, E., Lee, G., Van Beneden, C. (2012.) Clinical practice        guidelines for the diagnosis and management of Group A streptococcalpharyngitis: 2012 update by the                       infectious diseases society of America. Retrieved from:

Gurol, Y., Akan, H. Izbirak, G., Tekkanat, Z.T., Gunduz, T.S., Hayran, O, and G. Yilmaz (2010.) The sensitivity and

specificity of rapid antigen test in streptococcal upper respiratory tract infections. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolarygology, 74 (6), 591-593.