Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Something that's not so pretty

We just discovered something rosy-colored that's not so rosy to have. That would be the nice rosy color of a throat infected with Streptococcus A. Don't let the electron micrograph photo at left fool you. As pop art hung on the wall it may be beautiful, but when this organism takes up residence in your body, it is an entirely different matter. It has been a year since we last dealt with it, but we haven't forgotten how much mayhem this little germ causes. Last year two of our family members had it a total of seven times. That 's a lot of days of not feeling so great and a lot of antibiotic treatment. Not everyone exposed to Strep A will get strep throat, but we are finding that some people certainly have a tendency to get it if they happen to be exposed to it.

If you or your child happen to be one of the latter, here is what you can expect: You will notice a general feeling of malaise, and a marked decrease of activity-- which, for a parent, is a sure sign something is wrong with their child. This will be followed by a headache, possibly a low grade fever and a very sore throat. If your child has tonsils, you will see that they are swollen, very red, and may have white patches. The glands in the neck may also be visibly swollen as well. They may complain of stomach ache or have a noticeable decrease of appetite. These symptoms were personally observed by me as a mom, and also when suffering the same miserable symptoms myself. Now, these symptoms can also be indicative of other diagnoses, which is why you have to go to the doctor for a rapid strep test. If it is negative then antibiotics will not help. If it is positive, then you definitely have our sympathy and we hope that the following information is helpful.

Here are some tips that we have learned in dealing with this nasty little germ. First of all, get plenty of rest-- that is very important! Really, you won't feel like doing much anyway so grab a warm blanket, fluffy pillow, magazine, book or the remote and plant yourself on a very comfy couch. Then, you want to make sure you stay home and away from other people until after you have been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours--- especially stay clear of pregnant moms. Drink lots of fluids, and try to eat something. The best things for a really sore throat are things such as applesauce, popsicles, ice cream, chicken broth, juice, or anything that sounds good and can be eaten without a lot of discomfort. If nothing else, then please drink water-- it will help the healing process and keep dehydration away. The worst of this illness after antibiotics have been started lasts about 24 hours. My son was feeling much better day 2, he was up and talking, eating, playing and basically back to his normal, "wild thing" self --- a little less energetic but much better than the first day.

The next most important thing is to have separate drinking cups for everybody--- this should already be a general rule but one of my kids has a terrible habit of grabbing whatever glass is on the counter and drinking from it despite all my warnings. I got some plastic cups and wrote everyone's name and instructed the entire family to ONLY drink from the cup with their name on it. You will need to buy new toothbrushes for everyone (I would recommend this even for the non-ill family members) We discovered that the strep bacteria can live on a hard surface for up to 15 days. That's a long time, and enough time to finish a course of antibiotics and get reinfected. This step is important-- also throw out the toothpaste as well and buy a tube for each person (I scoffed at this but think about it-- if the toothbrush is infected and the tube of toothpaste is touched to the brush-- that's all it takes). Last year, being my thrifty self, I opted for running the toothbrushes through the dishwasher instead of buying new ones, and guess what? We had a re-infection and another 10 days of antibiotics, so it's not worth it. Another thing to do is to thoroughly wipe all surfaces with bleach-- doorknobs, countertops, the toilet flusher handle-- everywhere a child would normally touch should be wiped. Doing this can help get the bacteria out of your household.

Even the most vigilant cleaning parent can not control the germs that children encounter every day at school. Frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer are a must especially for those kids like mine who manage to catch Strep so easily. However, don't feel badly if you do need a second or third time with antibiotics-- it could be that the first round just wasn't effective enough or it could be that as it makes its way through the school, your child is being re-exposed to it.

I have found a couple of good resources that have a lot of information about the causes and treatment of strep infections:

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