CATES: Strep throat spreading this time of year - Odessa American: Health

CATES: Strep throat spreading this time of year

By Carol A. Cates, MSN, MBA, RN | Posted: Monday, January 20, 2020 4:00 am

I’ve had several conversations over the last couple weeks with local health care providers about the flu. It seems like every time I have those conversations, the other respiratory illness that comes up is strep throat. The providers I am speaking to are telling me they are seeing as much, or more, strep throat as flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strep throat is caused by a group of bacteria called Group A Streptococcus (strep). This same group of bacteria can cause several other diseases, including scarlet fever, necrotizing fasciitis, rheumatic fever, and post-streptococcal glomulonephritis (damage to the kidneys related to a Group A strep infection). Some of those conditions can all lead to some pretty serious problems, fortunately unlike strep throat, those conditions are much less common.  

Strep is a very common bacteria. It is quite literally everywhere. Strep bacteria can live on skin and on surfaces. Strep causes problems when it gets into places it shouldn’t be — like in the throat or in a wound — people with weakened immune systems because of chronic health problems or another kind of infection like a cold or the flu, are the most vulnerable to this problem. That’s part of why kids get strep throat more than adults — their immune systems aren’t fully mature.

Strep is passed from person to person by “large respiratory droplets.” That means, kissing, sharing drinks or food, a sneeze or a cough that leaves the bacteria behind and someone else then touches that person’s hand or a surface that has those bacteria, and then touches their own mouth, nose or eyes.

The best thing you can do to prevent strep throat and any type of infection is good handwashing. Good handwashing technique is using soap and running warm water on all hand surfaces for at least 20 seconds.

A good trick to make sure you are washing long enough is to sing the “Happy Birthday to You” song in your head twice. Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating, after using the restroom, and after coughing or sneezing.

Avoid touching your face because the mouth, nose, and eyes are the most common entry points for strep bacteria and many other types of upper respiratory infections. If you need to touch your face, wash your hands first. 

Contain coughs and sneezes in tissues, dispose of those tissues promptly, and again, wash your hands. Another good trick is to cough into your elbow or sleeve, not your hands. That way you are less likely to transmit the bacteria through touching if you are sick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that if you or your loved one has a sore throat and suspect strep throat, you see a health care provider.

Looking at the throat cannot diagnose strep throat, only a throat swab can do that. If you do have strep throat, it’s important that you stay home from work, school, or daycare until you no longer have a fever and have been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours. 

Antibiotics will also decrease the length of time you are sick and reduce the chances of complications from the infection.

Taking antibiotics as prescribed is really important with strep and any other type of bacterial infection.

Please take all of the antibiotics you are given. Just because you are feeling better doesn’t mean the infection is completely gone. Taking them as prescribed helps make sure the infection is gone.

Saving those antibiotics for when you feel sick again is not a good decision. They might not be a kind that will help with the later infection, and not completely getting rid of an infection and taking antibiotics that aren’t the right kind can allow bacteria to become resistant.

You may have heard of an infection called MRSA — that is a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to many antibiotics. Because of its resistance to antibiotics, it is much harder to cure an MRSA infection than other types of staph infections.

Again, the best thing you can do to prevent strep and any type of infection is wash your hands. If you do think you have strep throat, see a health care provider, and then follow their instructions so you get better quickly and don’t pass along the illness to those you love.