By Dr. Maria Simbra, Health Editor

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Emergency departments, doctors offices and medical labs are full of patients and specimens all generated because of sore throats. Some of it is because of strep throat, which is expected this time of year.

But is it actually a bigger problem this year than most?

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“I don’t know if we’re seeing more kids than last year, but we are in the middle of strep season,” says Dr. Andrew Nowalk, an infectious diseases doctor at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“I think it’s the typical late winter early spring. Strep throat is common this time of the year,” says Dr. Marc Itskowitz, an internist at Allegheny General Hospital.

Strep throat is a bacterial infection — different from the common cold or the flu, which are caused by viruses.

“Ninety percent of sore throat in adults is not bacterial and does not require antibiotics,” stresses Dr. Itskowitz.

But strep throat does.

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“They’re contagious to other kids in their classroom and certainly it’s a good time to keep them home on antibiotics for 24 to 48 hours,” advises Dr. Nowalk.

In some cases, the illness cycles over and over again, suggesting a rare situation.

“There are some families however that do have recurrent strep throat and some patients in the family may be carriers, and unless you treat everybody in the family, you’ll never eradicate in the strep throat,” says Dr. Itskowitz.

Carriers have the strep bacteria in their throats and will have positive rapid strep tests and cultures, but they aren’t sick. Even so, they can pass strep to others in the family, but this is only one or two percent of families.

“Kids with very frequent strep are some of our hardest cases. And that’s very hard on a family, when you have a child who’s had antibiotics every couple of months,” says Dr. Nowalk.

School-aged kids are the prime group affected by the illness and it’s unusual in children younger than three, but Dr. Nowalk just saw a case recently in a baby 11-days-old.

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National Institutes of Health: Strep Throat
American Academy of Pediatrics