HEALTH WATCH: Is it the flu or strep?

Symptoms of strep may include fever, sore throat that starts suddenly, and swollen, tender, anterior cervical lymph nodes.  Dr. Shaundrae Brown, a Well Star hospitalist, says if two common flu or cold-like symptoms are present, you likely do not have strep.

“If we see a cough that actually usually indicates that the infection is most likely caused by a virus. If you do have group A strep you’re unlikely to have runny nose or stuffy nose. That points more to a viral infection,” said Dr. Brown.

Strep is diagnosed by a rapid antigen test or a swab but this test is not as sensitive as a throat culture and may have some false negative results.

Strep is treated by antibiotics, but if left untreated,  serious complications could arise.

“You can have an abscess of the tonsils, you can have a blood stream infection or a bacteremia, you can even go on to develop serious complications  such as rheumatic fever which can affect the heart and heart valves.”

In rare cases, group A strep can lead to the so-called flesh-eating disease.  

Most cases of sore throat are caused by viruses and you should feel better within 2 to 3 days, but there are red flags to look out for.

“If you see tongue swelling or throat swelling and you’re not able to keep fluids down or if your fever is not resolving, even with medications such as Tylenol, you really should be seen by your physician right away.”

If you think you or your child might have a strep infection, the Mayo Clinic offers these tips to help you avoid spreading infection:

Keep your hands clean, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and don’t share personal items.

Gargling with 1/4 teaspoon (1.42 grams) of table salt in 8 ounces (237 milliliters) of warm water also may help.

Resting, drinking fluids, eating soft foods and taking pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may ease symptoms.

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