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August 2011 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family

Must back-to-school mean back to strep?

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For many kids, back-to-school time unfortunately means it’s back-to-the-doctor’s-office. Some children are more susceptible to catching germs that are spread from student to student, and, often, there is little a parent can do to prevent it. Strep throat is one of those dreaded school-time infections.

“My daughter, Emily, 6, has had strep throat about six times throughout the school year, for two years in a row. The [Ear, Nose and Throat doctor] says it is not her tonsils, she just keeps getting it from other kids at school,” says Lisa O’Connor of Bay Terrace, Staten Island. “He told me, ‘Watch, she will not get it once from June to October,’ and he was absolutely right!”

Strep is not to be taken lightly. Nancy Lawson’s 5-year-old son, Jacob, also had strep last year, which caused him to suddenly become very ill with a high fever and severe sore throat. At first, Lawson thought it was just a typical cold, but then his behavior changed.

“For an ordinarily very talkative little guy, he didn’t say a word for 24 hours, and his fever hovered around 103 for two and a half days,” says the Park Slope, Brooklyn mom. “I took him to our pediatrician and was told he had strep throat in about five minutes.”

The infection is usually diagnosed through a rapid strep test culture done in a pediatrician’s office. If found positive, the doctor will prescribe a 10-day course of antibiotics. But if it’s left untreated, strep can worsen. Prompt treatment is vital.

“If a child’s strep throat is not treated with antibiotics, or if she doesn’t complete the treatment, the infection may worsen or spread to other parts of her body, leading to conditions such as abscesses of the tonsils or kidney problems. Untreated strep infections also can lead to rheumatic fever, a disease that affects the heart,” states the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Often, kids who suffer recurrent strep throat may face several courses of antibiotics. O’Connor says her daughter has been on antibiotics several times over the last two years.

“Emily gets strep all the time, but my son Bryan, 8, never really gets sick,” says O’Connor. “We brought Emily to the ENT to get her tonsils checked, because she had strep seven times from September to April. He did blood tests, and her strep levels did not show that her body was harboring the virus. She would take antibiotics, and it would go away. Yet, like clockwork, a few weeks later, she had it again.”

So what can parents do to help stave off the strep infections? The American Academy of Pediatrics says the best way to avoid infection is to keep kids away from those already infected with strep, but points out that “most people are contagious before their first symptoms appear, so often there’s really no practical way to prevent your child from contracting the disease.”

Of course, kids should be taught to wash their hands carefully, and not share beverages or food at lunch or snack time. But let’s face it, sometimes that’s not feasible with young children. Many moms require their children to wash their hands and even change clothes when they come home from school, but some are not convinced that those preventive measures help much after a full day of being in the classroom.

It is also recommended that children get a new toothbrush after antibiotics treatment is over, and it’s imperative to not share cups or eating utensils.

Good, old-fashioned mommy vigilance can make a difference, too. After all, once you’ve been through a few illnesses with your child, it’s easier to recognize when something serious is afoot. Lawson wished she had acted sooner in her son’s case.

“I thought Jacob merely had a cold, and he ended up pretty sick and miserable,” says Lawson. “If he had started treatment earlier, it would have saved him a day or two of a lot of pain. But I’m thankful it was diagnosed and treated, so there was no long-term damage.”

O’Connor advises taking quick action once you notice your child coming down with something to prevent him from feeling worse and missing more school days.

“As soon as she says her throat hurts, I take her to the doctor, even without a fever, because I just know she has strep,” says O’Connor. “I have even gone, and the doctor has said, ‘Her throat looks OK,’ but the test comes back positive. Luckily, I don’t wait, so she never really gets sick, other than a sore throat. And after 48 hours on antibiotics (when she is not contagious anymore), she goes back to school.”

Danielle Sullivan, a Brooklyn-born mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years, and was recently honored with a Gold award for her health column by the Parenting Media Association. Sullivan also writes for Babble.

Updated 12:08 pm, August 1, 2011
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