Could it be STREP THROAT?

Feb 27, 2001 (Updated Jul 4, 2001)

The Bottom Line If you have a sore throat with a fever, particularly with white spots, you probably have Strep!

What is a sore throat? Do I really need to tell you?

This article is going to try to enlighten you about the difference between a regular sore throat and a more serious condition: Strep throat. And I should know. I had Strep throat for three straight months and went through four rounds of antibiotics before finally killing it (note: see the update at the end of this article...I got it again a few months later!) It really messed up my life for a while. Perhaps I can save YOU the aggravation I suffered. So read on.

A regular sore throat has the following characteristics:

Difficulty swallowing
Perhaps some ear pain
Perhaps some coughing

A regular sore throat will resolve itself within a week, usually. To remedy your discomfort, drink hot tea with lemon and honey, suck on cough drops, have soup, try not to talk too much, and take your favorite pain killer in moderation.

Now you know you're in trouble if you have symptoms of STREP THROAT, a much more serious condition:

Difficulty swallowing
Perhaps ear pain or ringing in the ears
Perhaps sinus pain or headaches
*White pus spots visible in throat (on tonsils)*
Body aches
General fatigue
Perhaps swollen glands (under the jaw)

The hallmarks of strep throat are fever and white pus spots in your throat. And terrible body aches (like you've been run over by a truck). If you have these symptoms together, YOU NEED TO SEE A DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY. And you need to get your throat cultured for Strep bacteria. And if you have it (or if your kids have it) each family member should get a throat culture (I know, what a pain!). Strep is extremely contageous.

Some clinics have a "rapid Strep test" which confirms, in about 10 minutes, whether the stuff in your throat is Strep. However, (and believe me, I know this from experience) DO NOT RELY ON THE RAPID TEST ALONE! Insist that your doctor swab your throat for a complete Strep culture. In some cases, you may need to make a separate trip to a lab to have this done. DO IT!! The complete culture takes about 3 days to grow in the lab. Then the lab should run "sensitivities" on the bacteria growth. This means, they test a series of common antibiotics on the bacteria to see what kills it. Tell your doctor to have the lab run SENSITIVITIES on the Strep! (The lab will not do this unless they have doctor's orders for it; it is not routine).

Here's why you should go to the trouble of getting the complete culture WITH SENSITIVITIES: you never know whether your strain of Strep is resistant to the antibiotic your doctor prescribed. The strain I had was resistant to Pennicillin. But I didn't find that out until 2 months, 2 rounds of Pennicillin, and 2 relapses later.

Most cases (probably 90%) of Strep are cured with Pennicillin or Amoxicillin. So most doctors feel confident that if they prescribe these drugs, you will be cured. But what if you happen to fall in that other 10% that is resistant to these drugs? You have no way of knowing without a complete lab test including the sensitivities. In the mean time, you could pass the Strep to other members of your family and create a viscious cycle.

Finally a complete lab test revealed the reason I was still feeling like sh*t weeks later. In the mean time, my kids and I kept passing the Strep back and forth to each other. The kids also got Impetigo, a skin disease derived from Strep bacteria. Then my older daughter developed a vaginal infection from the antibiotics and had to sit in a vinegar and water bath 3 times a day! It was a nightmare. It went on for months and months. I felt like we'd never be healthy again!

In the end, week after week of doctor appointments, lab tests, and antibiotics, we realized that my younger daughter was a "carrier" who had a very resistant strain. The doctor gave her Augmentin. THAT drug killed the Strep and finally we were all able to get healthy again. My two daughters and I were very close to getting our tonsils removed -- one more relapse and our Ear-Nose-Throat doc wanted to operate! (My husband, btw, never contracted the disease, he kept testing negative, lucky guy!)

This recurrant strep was very hard on my older daughter, because she is allergic to pennicillin and other antibiotics, and couldn't take some of the same drugs the rest of us took.

But all that aggravation could have been avoided if we had known, from the very beginning, that we were dealing with a strain of Strep that was resistant to Pennicillin (and a couple of other drugs, too).

Strep is much more serious in children and can result in life-threatening conditions. So if your kid complains of a sore throat and has a fever, haul the kid over to the doctor! You are better safe than sorry!

To help prevent the spred of this bacteria, I recommend the following:

Wash your dishes in the hottest water (esp if you have an "antibacterial" cycle on your dishwasher).

Buy your kids new toothbrushes three days after they begin using the antibiotics. Don't store the toothbrushes in a common holder. Lay each toothbrush on a separate piece of tissue on your bathroom countertop. This way the toothbrushes won't drip onto each other and share germs. Of course, use disposable paper cups. It might also be a good idea to get a separate tube of toothpaste for each kid; this way, they're not wiping their toothbrushes on the same tube.

Frequently wipe down the bathroom (especially the sink and faucets) with an antibacterial cleaner. Keep the sink as clean as possible.

Wipe doorknobs, keyboards, computer mice, and telephones with antibacterial cleaner, or spray with Lysol.

Do not share food, utensils, or drinking cups with other family members. Be dilligent about this!

Wash your pillowcases frequently in very hot water.

If you suspect Impetigo, don't bathe your kids together in the bathtub, and don't share towels. Also wash their clothes in hot water.

Don't let old water bottles or sippy cups sit around and be used the next day. Use fresh cups and bottles each day to avoid re-contamination with yesterday's germs.

If one person in the house has Strep (esp if it recurs), be sure to get the entire family tested. When you get the entire family's throats cultured, do not forget your family pets. Dogs and cats (and other animals) can be carriers of Strep. Don't overlook anything!

I hope my little expose' has helped you and your family to stay healthy!

******** UPDATE April 20, 2001 *********

Much to my chagrin, today I found out that I have Strep again, four months after I had gotten rid of it! It's possible that I, myself, am a carrier, and it just took several months for the bacteria to re-surface and get me sick. My ENT doctor gave me Augmentin. Hopefully this will finally put an end to this horrible scenario! (And I thought I was rid of it back in January!) I shudder at the thought...but I may need to have my tonsil removed if I keep getting Strep.

Augmentin is Amoxicillin with an added ingredient that breaks down the cell wall of the Strep bacteria. Because it has that extra ingredient, it often works to eradicate Strep in cases where other antibiotics don't fully kill it.

Wish me luck, my fellow epinionators. Having Strep really s*cks. I hope I haven't passed it on to my family. They had their throats cultured today and I'm hoping the results are negative!

Does anyone out there know a way to get rid of this black cloud that has been following me around for the past few months...strep, car accident, hurt back, strep again...did I anger some spirits or something?! Anyone know any "health chants" I can perform?! ;-)

**** Update May 12, 2001 *****

Even after 10 days of Augmentin, I still test positive for Strep in my throat! Can you believe this?! Only this time, it isn't the worrisome Class A strain, but an obscure Class F strain. My Ear-Nose-Throat doctor wanted me to take Levaquin, but after reading some of the dangerous side-effects, I told her "no thanks." I've take enough antibiotics in the past 6 months to kill a horse!

My next step is to see a doc who specializes in Infectious Disease. I'll let you guys know how this turns out. I might need to have my tonsils removed, after all. :-( Not a pretty thought for an adult....I really don't want to keep taking antibiotics!!

******* Update July 2001 ***************

Just for the record, I thought I'd mention what the Infectious Disease doctor said. He said that Strep F is nothing to worry about. Phew! And he told me not to get my tonsils removed unless they became hopelessly, consistently, impossibly infected. "You need your tonsils," he said. Phew again!

So perhaps the Augmentin did the trick for me. So far, knock wood, the Strep has not come back.

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