Sore Throat to Heart Surgery
It's a familiar scenario for parents. You child pulls on your sleeve right in middle of the morning rush to school and/or work and says, "My throat hurts." You dig out a thermometer (if you can find it) and discover they have a slight fever. From past experience, you figure it's a cold, a virus. Antibiotics won't do anything. Why bother dragging them to the doctor's office? Time to break out your favorite brand of acetaminophen or ibuprofen, popsicles, and a jumbo box of Kleenex, right?
Most likely, yes. But there is a chance that the sore throat is caused by streptococcus, a bacterium. In the early stages of the infection, it can be difficult to distinguish between a viral infection (a cold) and strep. Not all children with strep develop a fever off the bat. Some will have stomach aches, but how often have parents heard the wail, "My tummy hurts!" right before the school bus arrives?
Strep can be sneaky. If the symptoms are mild and the child recovers quickly, parents may not be aware of the bigger dangers lurking in their child's body. The antibodies produced by the immune system to fight the strep could attack the wrong targets, including joints and the heart. This is rheumatic fever and it can develop several weeks to months after the initial strep infection.
Rheumatic fever can scar the valves of the heart so they can't open and close properly, causing the heart to pump harder. This is now rheumatic heart disease. If the damage is severe, the heart valve may need to be replaced with surgery.
In my novella Heart Stopper, eleven-year-old Tessa Radner's sore throat starts on the morning she's scheduled to hop on a plane for a highly anticipated trip to Disney World. Not wanting to miss the plane and ruin the trip, her father doesn't even consider taking her to a doctor. Instead, he gives her Tylenol and Gatorade. A few months later, Tessa is being airlifted to a hospital for emergency heart surgery. Here are the cover and links :
This progression from sore throat to heart surgery is possible, but rare. Here is a four minute video I watched as part of the research for Heart Stopper about a real case of rheumatic heart disease in a young boy.
YouTube: Stop Sore Throats from Hurting Hearts, New Zealand
If your child gets a sore throat, do not panic! Less than 3% of people with untreated strep develop rheumatic fever. But do seek medical treatment, especially for children with a high fever, swollen tonsils, and/or pus on the tonsils.
Take them to their pediatrician for a rapid strep test. A nurse will swipe the back of their throat with a big q-tip, making them gag and glare at you. After fifteen minutes, you'll either get a prescription for antibiotics (positive) or the sample will be sent off to a lab for more vigorous testing (and they only call you if that is positive).
Have you or your children had strep throat?