Surviving Strep and Flu Season: What Parents Need to Know

Disclaimer: This post is written by our contributor, who is a Physician’s Assistant. This is a generalized overview of strep and flu, but if you feel your child may have strep or flu, we urge you to always contact your child’s own medical professional. The advice here is not intended to provide a diagnosis, but to raise awareness of symptoms and steps to take.

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We’ve all been there. Your kid comes home from school and says those four dreaded words, “Mom, my throat hurts.” You feel their forehead and it feels warm. Or maybe you have a little one who is super fussy all day and you know something is wrong, but where do you start? As a Physician Assistant (PA), I’ve heard so many mamas tell me, “I don’t want to freak out and bring in my kid for nothing, but how do I know when my kid’s sore throat is strep throat or when their fever is the start of flu?”

Well mamas, let me help you out!

First, let me give you the low down on sore throats.

While there can be many causes to a sore throat, there are two causes we see a lot:

  • Strep throat. This can have the obvious sore throat but can have a fever too. In little kids, a lot of times they will just have mild pain above the belly button or even just a headache.
  • An upper respiratory infection (URI) or the common cold. Your child can have a sore throat, but these have other symptoms too like a runny nose and cough. Most URIs are caused by a virus and should not be treated with an antibiotic.

So what do you do if you think your kid has strep?

  1. Come into a clinic and get a throat swab. These can tell us within five minutes if they are positive for strep. Strep swabs aren’t 100% accurate so we can do a throat culture if needed. This is when we swab the back of the throat and send it off to a lab to see if any bacteria grows from the throat.
  2. If it is strep, we will start your child on some antibiotics. Normally your child can go back to school within 24 hours of starting on the antibiotic. Pro tip: Throw away your kid’s toothbrush after 48 hours so they don’t get re-infected.

Now what about the flu? Here’s what you need to know.

  • Flu typically has a fever, lots of aches and pains, coughing and sometimes even nausea and vomiting. Flu season is normally during the winter months.

So what do you do if you think your kid has the flu?

  1. Come in and get a flu swab. This is done by swabbing the inside of your child’s nose. In my experience, flu swabs are pretty accurate.
  2. Flu is a virus, so while a virus cannot be treated with antibiotics, it can be treated with an antiviral like Tamiflu. If your provider starts your child on Tamiflu, it can shorten the flu course by a couple of days. Tamiflu has to be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
  3. If it is flu, drink lots of fluids and stay hydrated. Alternate Tylenol and Ibuprofen every 4-6 hours to keep the fever down, and get lots of rest!

So strep throat and flu are not fun at all, and I am sure you would love to make it through the school year without anyone in your family getting strep or flu. Here are some tips to stay healthy this winter!

  1. Get a flu vaccine! This is the best way to not get the flu. The flu can be a really big deal sometimes and can land people in the hospital, so not getting it is best!
  2. Wash your hands, and get your kids to wash their hands! I am not a germaphobe by any stretch of the imagination, but wash your hands often and avoid touching your mouth or your nose until you wash your hands.
  3.  Try to get your kids to avoid sharing drinks and food with people. This is one of the ways germs get spread, especially around school.
  4. Wipe down surfaces at home with antibacterial wipes, especially cell phones, remotes and pencils.

You can do this! You can survive strep and flu season and if you don’t, come see me and I’ll get you straightened up! Do you have other questions about your kids and getting sick? Let me know I’ll try to answer them!

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