Winter always brings with it an array of illnesses. As you know, we've seen cases of seasonal flu across the country. To review, symptoms for all influenza strains are typically similar, including fever, sore throat, cough, congestion, headaches and body aches. Occasionally, there may be some nausea or vomiting, but not that often. Flu-like symptoms seem to begin with general malaise and then develop over the next 12-24 hours until you just feel miserable.
Viral sore throats are typically associated with other viral symptoms, which include cough and upper respiratory symptoms like congestion or runny nose. A viral sore throat may or may not be accompanied by a fever. In the case of flu, there's usually a fever over 100 degrees.
With a viral sore throat, you often don't see swollen lymph nodes in the neck (feel along the jaw line) and it doesn't hurt to palpate the neck. If you can get your child to open up and say, "AHHH," so you can view the back of the throat and tonsils, you may see that, despite the child's pain, the tonsils don't look red, inflamed, or filled with puss. Even though it hurts every time the child swallows, to look at the throat really is not very impressive.
Strep throat, on the other hand, typically occurs in both winter and spring, but there are always some cases lurking in the community, so it's not unusual to hear that "so and so" has strep.
Over the next two months, there will be a lot more strep throat. This disease most often affects school-aged children from ages 5 to 15. Patients develop a sudden sore throat, usually have fever, and don't typically have other upper-respiratory symptoms (cough, congestion). This is another opportunity to feel your child's neck and see if the lymph nodes are swollen, as strep usually gives you large tender nodes along the jaw line.
When you look at the throats of kids with strep, they usually have big, red, beefy tonsils (that look like raw meat) and may have red dots (called petechia) on the roof of the mouth. The throat just looks "angry." Sometimes, a child will complain of headache and abdominal pain with strep, and some vomit.
The only way to confirm strep throat -- a bacterial infection -- is to do a swab of the back of the throat. Both rapid strep tests and overnight cultures are available. Most doctors use the rapid strep test in their offices. Children diagnosed with strep throat are treated with an antibiotic that they take for 10 days. Again, antibiotics are not useful for a viral sore throat, which is why strep tests are performed.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)