Strep Throat in the COVID Winter
With all the changes and headlines we have experienced over the last year it may seem strange to be discussing the common strep throat. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a new situation in our lives, but some things remain the same. The days will begin to grow longer, and we (or at least I) look forward to Spring.
Another thing to look to as we enter the new year is the annual peak in cases of Strep Throat. Group A Streptococcal Pharyngitis, commonly known as Strep Throat is a bacterial infection of the upper airway and throat. It caused when the bacteria, which normally lives harmlessly on human skin, invades the tissues in the back of the throat. This can cause a variety of symptoms that vary based on age.
In children over 3 years of age and adolescents (this type of infection is rare in adults), the infection typically causes fevers, throat pain, painful swallowing, painfully swollen lymph nodes or tonsils, headaches, and/or abdominal pain with nausea/vomiting. Sometimes a “scarlatiniform” rash can develop: a sandpaper like red rash that characteristically starts in the armpits and groin and spreads to the trunk and extremities. Children younger than 3 years tend to have different symptoms. They may have a stuffy/runny nose, fevers, decreased appetite, fussiness, and painfully swollen lymph nodes in their necks.
Though the majority of throat infections are thought to be caused by viruses, during this time up to 40% of throat infections seen in clinics may be strep throat. If you think you or a loved one may have strep throat, it is important to be treated early. Early treatment can help prevent the occurrence of “sequalae”, or long term effects due to the initial infection. Unfortunately, our body has a difficult time deciphering what is Group A Strep bacteria and what is our own cells. As a result, prolonged infection increases the risk of “friendly fire”, where the immune system response can damage the heart, brain, or kidneys. Prolonged infection can also result in the infection moving or forming an abscess. Group A strep is also known as “flesh eating bacteria” because when the infection gets deep enough it can spread rapidly and become life threatening. Luckily, such complications are relatively rare in the U.S. when patients access treatment.
Unfortunately, no one knows exactly how strep throat infections occur. There is no vaccine to protect against the bacteria. Prevention of infection comes to the basics: wash your hands, cover coughs and sneezes. It is also important to be cautious of hand hygiene when preparing food. It is good to avoid sharing drinks or food with infected individuals and seek early treatment to avoid the sequelae of infection.
If you have any medical concerns, you should see your primary care physician who will be able evaluate you and determine whether you are having strep throat, or any one among a myriad of similar illnesses. They will then help you with individually tailored advice and medication.
Dr. Joshi is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501(c)3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.