Banner Health has seen an increase in strep throat cases in children throughout its Phoenix-area health-care centers, and is urging parents to watch for early signs of an infection.

The “strep” in strep throat is short for Streptococcus, which is a bacteria, not a virus. Strep A is the most common bacteria involved in strep throat. 

Dr. Joel Cooper, a family physician at Banner Urgent Care in Peoria, has noted that those with strep will feel as if they have been “gargling with razor blades” or that they’ve “been run over by a Mack truck.”

“Along with a sore throat, children with strep throat usually experience additional symptoms within about three days including fever, painful swallowing, nausea and vomiting, reduced appetite and a rash that is sandpaper-like, usually starting on the neck before moving to the extremities,” he said.

Banner officials were unable to provide specific numbers of cases but said reports from various company locations indicated the uptick in cases about three to four weeks ago.

Diagnosis, prevention and treatments

Children and the elderly are especially susceptible to strep throat. 

If a child has strep throat and carries it into their school, it can easily spread within a class. Children can then carry the bacteria back into their homes, causing further spread.

Antibiotics are effective in combating strep throat; they help reduce the time of contagiousness while fighting the bacteria.

Cooper suggests gargling salt water and taking over-the-counter medication to combat symptoms such as fever and pain.

It’s not possible to know for sure if a person has strep unless tests are done. Simply seeing a red throat is not evidence of strep, and most sore throats are not strep throat, he said.

The only way to definitively diagnose strep throat, he said, is to take a Rapid Strep Test, which can be performed at health clinics and delivers results in as quick as five minutes.

Untreated strep throat, in most cases, results in a few weeks of pain and discomfort for healthy adults, but there is always potential that it could develop into something worse. 

“Untreated strep can lead to scarlet fever, which can lead to rheumatic fever, which affects the heart,” Cooper said.

The best way to combat strep throat is to take antibiotics and rest during the period of contagiousness, and drink plenty of fluids. After the symptoms fade and health improves, take steps such as getting a new toothbrush and washing sheets so there is less risk for re-infection. 

Hand-washing is considered a very effective preventative measure when it comes to common illnesses and infections, including strep throat. It is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs, bacteria and illness, especially in places such as nursing homes, hospitals or schools.

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