Strep throat: A simple sore throat, or something more serious?

Strep throat is one of the most common upper respiratory tract bacterial infections. Strep throat is common among school-age kids, affecting nearly 30% of children visiting their healthcare facility with a sore throat. 


The bacteria that causes Strep throat is very susceptible to common antibiotics like penicillin which is why most doctors will prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat Strep throat. As an aside, most general sore throats are caused by viruses and will not need antibiotics. A doctor or a lab test will confirm if it’s actually a Strep throat infection. 


Strep throat is a relatively simple infection that can be treated quickly with antibiotics. It can also resolve itself without treatment in a matter of days. However, leaving it untreated to go away on its own can put you or your child at risk for some pretty serious complications.


One of these complications is Acute Rheumatic fever (ARF). Acute Rheumatic fever is a life-threatening complication of a Strep throat infection. Strep throat is caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes


Acute Rheumatic fever occurs when the body’s immune system confuses the bacteria and the body’s cells, attacking the body. Rheumatic heart fever can develop into Rheumatic heart disease, which can leave permanent damage to the heart. According to recent studies, over 33 million Rheumatic heart disease cases are reported every year around the globe, leading to 275,000 deaths annually. 


Rheumatic heart fever occurs after the onset of Strep throat symptoms. It is characterized by a high-grade fever, severe joint pain and swelling, shortness of breath with difficulty breathing, behavioral and movement disturbances, and nodules on the skin. 


Although Rheumatic heart fever can develop in anyone, this disease occurs mostly in specific high-risk groups. Children, people with repeated Strep throat infections, individuals with weakened immune systems, and those living in areas dealing with overcrowding or poor sanitation are all at greater risk for Rheumatic heart fever. 


The risk of Rheumatic heart fever is primarily seen in children 5-14 years old. It’s very rare in children under three and adults. Rheumatic heart fever is equally distributed among both males and females, but females are at twice the the risk of developing Rheumatic heart disease than males. 


Households and school overcrowding is a major risk factor for acute rheumatic fever.  Reduced overcrowding has been cited as one of the most important factors in the decline of acute Rheumatic fever. 


The first step in preventing Rheumatic heart disease is preventing Strep throat infections. Strep throat infection spreads easily through close contact. Reducing overcrowding in apartment buildings, schools, offices and military facilities helps reduce the rate of Strep infection transmission. 


But the most dramatic measure we can take against Rheumatic heart disease is quickly and accurately diagnosing a Strep throat infection. With a quick diagnosis, antibiotics can be started immediately and the risk of transmission reduces each day as the antibiotics work against the bacteria.


Checkable Medical has at-home rapid strep tests to help diagnose a Strep throat infection so you can start feeling better faster.