Sometimes, it can be very tricky for a parent to figure out what is wrong with their poorly baby.
Strep throat is one of those illnesses that might be hard to diagnose for a new parent – and easily confused with a sore throat.
Luckily, babies infected with strep throat recover faster than toddlers or school-age children. They also have a lower risk of complications.
Furthermore, babies aren’t usually tested or even treated for this illness. That’s because strep throat in babies usually resolves by itself.
I find that quite extraordinary.
So, why do babies seem better able to tolerate strep throat whilst older kids require treatment to avoid serious complications?
Here’s what you need to know about strep throat in babies.
Can Babies Get Strep Throat?
Technically anyone can get strep throat, including babies. However, it is incredibly unlikely that babies under 1 year will be affected by this illness. This is primarily because they still have some immunity passed on by their mothers during pregnancy. And secondly, they receive antibodies from colostrum and breast milk.
1. Why Do Babies Are Not Getting Infected with Strep Throat?
Strep throat is a common name for acute streptococcal pharyngitis, a bacterial throat infection.
School kids between the ages of 5-15 are the most common age group prone to strep. As the infection is very contagious and easily transmittable from person to person via airborne droplets. Therefore, school settings, where large groups of kids are crowded together, are the perfect breeding grounds.
This condition is not commonly affecting children younger than 3 years of age due to the following 2 main reasons;
1.1 Passive Immunity
The newborn babies carry their mothers’ antibodies that protect them from various bacteria and viruses. This type of antibody is called passive immunity.
So the passive immunity was passed on to them from the placenta during the last 3 months of pregnancy.
The type and quantity of antibodies passed to a baby are determined by the mother’s immune system. So, if she has had strep throat before, she will have some antibodies to pass on to her baby.
However, after a few months, the passive immunity will wear off. Hence, babies start their routine vaccination as early as 8 weeks of age for illnesses where immunity is rapidly lost.
1.2 Colostrum & Breast Milk
Then, during the first days of their life, babies may get an immunity boost from the colostrum.
Colostrum is thick, creamy, and highly concentrated milk that is very rich in nutrients and antibodies. What’s more, its complex composition is tailored to the newborn baby’s specific needs!
Furthermore, it is common knowledge that both colostrum and breast milk play a crucial role in building babies’ immune systems and protecting them from many illnesses.
Although, surprisingly, there is no conclusive evidence that breastfeeding protects babies explicitly from strep throat more than bottle feeding.
2. The Difference Between Sore Throat Vs Strep Throat?
Now, it might be tricky to work out whether your little one has strep throat or “just” a common sore throat. That’s because their symptoms are similar, albeit sore throat is a much milder condition than strep throat.
So, here’s what you need to know about the two illnesses.
|SORE THROAT||STEP THROAT|
|CAUSE||Primarily a viral infection associated with the common cold||Bacterial infection caused by group A streptococcus bacteria|
|TYPICAL SYMPTOMS IN BABIES||· Sore throat|
· Runny nose
· Red, watery eyes
|· Severe sore throat|
· Drooling excessively
· Loss of appetite caused by pain during swallowing
· Red, inflamed tonsils with white patches of pus
· Mild fever
· Swollen lymph nodes
|SHOULD I CONTACT DOCTOR?||Not necessarily||Yes, you definitely should consult your doctor for advice and rule out any health concerns that may require treatment|
|TREATMENT||There is no medication to treat viral sore throat infections. It usually goes away on its own||Usually, children above the age of 3 are given antibiotics for 10 days. For younger babies, antibiotic treatment may not be necessary. Baby paracetamol and good nutrients should bring the baby some comfort|
|WHO IS AFFECTED?||All group ages||Peak age – 5-15 years old. Not common in babies and adults. |
So, if a baby catches strep throat, it is most likely from older siblings generously sharing their germs
|COMPLICATIONS||No complications expected||· Acute rheumatic fever that may lead to severe heart or brain problems|
· Acute glomerulonephritis – serious kidney disorder
3. Diagnosis Of Strep Throat In Babies
So, from the above table, it is clear that strep throat is a much more severe illness than a common sore throat caused by a cold.
What’s more, the symptoms of strep throat in babies are different than in older children.
So, you must know what to look out for. Especially since your baby won’t tell you exactly what the problem is.
For the diagnosis of strep throat, a swab sample from the throat is taken to perform a rapid strep test. A simple physical examination won’t suffice in this situation.
Interestingly, it is not common for doctors to take the strep test in children under age 3. The only exceptions are if the baby was in close contact with a sick person or in case the outbreak of strep occurred in the baby’s environment.
Doctors do not test babies for strep because the risk of complications is low in young babies, which is the primary concern for doctors, rather than strep itself.
4. Final Few Lines
Indeed, babies can get infected by streptococcus bacteria, causing strep throat.
In comparison to school-age kids, the chances of getting it are very low. That’s because of the precious antibodies that babies acquire from their mom during pregnancy + colostrum, oozing with antibodies.
As the antibodies wear off, babies become more prone to infection, their symptoms become more severe, and they require antibiotic treatment. This is due to the risk of complications if the condition is left untreated.
The good news is that babies don’t need to be medicated, since they can recover without needing antibiotics, and there is little risk of severe complications.
However, if you suspect your baby has strep throat, you should always consult your doctor if you have any concerns about your little one’s health.