BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - As we are still in the midst of a severe Influenza outbreak which has claimed the lives of 28 Mainers so far, it is important for us to remember another potential killer that may not get the headlines it deserves. Streptococcal infections remain a constant problem for human populations and can have life-threatening complications if not treated promptly. Why is early treatment often missed? When most folks experience sore throat, fever and achy joints, they often believe that these symptoms are the beginning of a viral infection such as the 'common cold' and occasionally Influenza. While it is true that anti-viral prescriptions are available for those at high risk for respiratory compromise, these meds do not have much benefit if taken after 48-72 hours of symptoms. As result it is common for many to 'tough it out' at home with over the counter cough and cold remedies rather than seek medical care for these symptoms. Unfortunately by avoiding a trip to the doctor, you may be missing the chance to treat a strep infection and avoid some potentially serious health complications.
Infectious disease experts remind us that world-wide, strep infections which start most often with sore throat and fever, remain the largest cause of acquired heart disease. Before antibiotics became more widely available in the 1950's every family in America worried about the progression of a strep throat that could become scarlet fever. This could then develop into rheumatic heart valve disease that in turn could be life-threatening. These complications are rarer in developed nations because they are prevented by antibiotics such as penicillin started within 9 days of symptoms.
Other post-strep health problems include glomerulonephritis which is a serious kidney disorder characterized by blood in the urine and very high blood pressures. More recently pediatricians are concerned by a strange collection of behavioral symptoms called 'PANDAS' or pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders due to strep. This can cause children to develop anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behavior, nervous muscle and vocal tics such as Tourette's Syndrome. Although generally short-lived these odd symptoms can require psychiatric medication and be very disruptive to any child's school and social life.
So what is the best advice to avoid these modern-day problems of strep infections?
1) First, anyone with unexplained fever more than 100 degrees, associated with a serious sore throat (especially if there are white patches on the tonsils) should seek medical care to have the simple 'rapid strep' test done. Don't think that because you are young and healthy you should be able to 'beat' these symptoms just because they are usually caused by low-risk viruses.
2) If you have the beginnings of these symptoms, make sure you do not share eating utensils, a toothbrush, or even towels/napkins with other household members. Also, wash hands frequently to avoid germ spread.
3) Parents with a child who has been exposed to strep at school or at home should consider asking for this test if their child develops even minor symptoms, or a reddish rash called scarletina.