GREENEVILLE, TN – Does your throat feel hot like a sunburn, prickly like a porcupine, and rough like sandpaper?
Chances are you might have strep throat, according to Dr. Sharon Duke of Takoma Adventist Hospital’s Emergency Center. “Other symptoms include a headache, a fever and lethargy,” Duke said, noting that the hospital has seen an influx of cases in recent weeks.
“Since school started and children have come into close contact with each other and carried germs home to other family members, we have seen one to two cases of Strep throat each day in the ER.”
The illness is spread when healthy people come into contact with people infected with strep throat. “Bacteria can be spread by someone who has strep and then sneezes or blows their nose and you are close by,” Duke said. “Or, you can get it if you drink after someone who has it.”
Cases generally increase during cold winter months when people are crowded together indoors, she noted. Of all age groups, school-aged children and children in daycare are most affected.
Once exposed to strep, symptoms generally surface within five days, Duke said.
To get well, antibiotics are usually prescribed by a doctor. “Generally, we give some form of penicillin for about a week,” she said. “Other antibiotics are available for those who are allergic to penicillin.”
Strep throat is a disease caused by tiny, egg-shaped bacteria called Group A streptococci, she explained. “If untreated, strep throat can affect other parts of the body, causing arthritis or heart problems from a disease called rheumatic fever,” Duke said.
Another rare complication is acute glomerulonephritis, a kidney problem that begins two to three weeks after the initial infection, she said.
“Rheumatic fever causes permanent damage to the valves in the heart and glomerulonephritis causes permanent damage to the kidneys,” Duke said. “In very rare instances, it can cause permanent brain damage.”
Although these extreme reactions to strep throat are rare, they do occur. A Greeneville teen-ager recently learned that she developed rheumatic fever as the result of an undetected strep throat.
Tiffany Morgan, the 15-year-old daughter of Tamara and Michael Morgan Sr., began having slurred speech and uncontrollable movements on her left side on Nov. 7, according to her mother. “Her facial expressions weren’t right and her tongue would come out of her mouth,” Tamara Morgan recalled. “I thought she was having some kind of seizure.”
On Nov. 11, Tiffany was taken to Takoma Hospital’s Emergency Center, where extensive tests were run, including a CT-Scan and an MRI. “Nothing turned up, but they feared it could be something like multiple sclerosis or a viral infection, so they sent her to Children’s Hospital in Knoxville.”
After more tests, the parents learned Tiffany had developed rheumatic fever caused by a previous, undetected, strep throat. “Her rheumatic fever had turned into Syndeham Chorrea, which has a side effect of uncontrolled movements,” Tamara recalled.
The Morgans are unsure when Tiffany might have had that fateful strep throat. “We took her to the doctor about a month earlier in October when she complained of sore ribs, but Tiffany’s an athlete so we didn’t think anything about it,” Tamara said. “She plays softball, so we just thought that she had pulled a muscle.”
Other than that incident, they can’t recall any time recently that Tiffany had been visibly ill.
Today, as a result of the rheumatic fever, Tiffany must take 16 pills a day (24 pills a day when she has a new bout of strep), and must have a penicillin shot exactly every 28 days until she’s in her 20s and possibly forever, according to her mother. “The rheumatic fever permanently damaged her heart,” Tamara said. “She has a leaking heart valve on her left side.”
Although it’s a minor leak, it could one day require open heart surgery, Tamara fears. “This has been a lot for a 15-year-old to deal with,” she said. “At first, Tiffany didn’t understand why it was happening to her, but she’s handling it better now.”
Tamara warned patients to pay close attention to sore throats. “If your child complains that they can’t swallow or if their throat is red, you better have it checked out,” she said. “Of course, Tiffany never complained of those things. Her case was a fluke, but it doesn’t always happen that way. I would urge parents to really listen to their children and check everything out thoroughly.”
Group A streptococci also can cause many different kinds of skin infections, most commonly impetigo, according to Dr. Duke. In very rare cases, it can cause pneumonia, most often after a previous viral infection like the flu, measles or chickenpox.
Symptoms in adults include:
· A sore throat;
· a fever;
· and swollen neck glands.
· Adults don’t normally have a cough or a runny nose with strep.
Children with strep throat can have:
· a sore throat;
· stomach pain;
· or, a red rash with small spots. The rash is worse under the arms and in skin creases.
To test for strep throat, the doctor may use a test called the rapid strep test. For this test, the doctor uses a long cotton swab to take some material from the back of the throat. The results of this test can be ready in about 15 minutes.
The doctor also may take a sample of the throat material to send to a laboratory. This test is called a throat culture. It takes more than 24 hours to learn the results of a strep culture.
If you have strep throat, here are some things that might help you feel better, according to Dr. Duke:
· Taking ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin, Nuprin) or acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol). Children should not take aspirin. Aspirin can cause Reyes syndrome - a serious illness - and in some cases, death when it is used in children under 18 who have a fever.
· Gargling with warm salt water (1/4 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water).
· For adults and older children, sucking on throat lozenges, hard candy or pieces of ice.
· Eating soft foods, drinking cool drinks or warm liquids, and sucking on Popsicles.
For more information, please contact Takoma Hospital’s Emergency Center at 636-2360.