Local healthcare providers in Haines are recommending that anyone with a sore throat go to the clinic. The reason: local cases of strep throat are at an all-time high. The bacterial infection, if left untreated, can cause serious complications.
Unless you’ve been cheering loudly and often at local basketball games recently, the chances are pretty good that sore throat is strep.
Dr. Pornson Linton, a practitioner at the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium in Haines, says in her nine years as a provider here, she’s never seen anything like this. She says other doctors and nurses agree that the recent strep outbreak is unusually robust.
“This is the worst time ever that we’ve seen strep like this. Usually we see it occasionally, here and there, but this is an almost everyday thing,” Linton says.
The ailment has been going around for over two months, and while Linton couldn’t pull up an exact number, she says more than several dozen people are infected. The main symptoms are sore throat and fever. Linton says about 90 percent of patients she’s has seen, that come in with a sore throat are diagnosed with strep.
“We don’t know the exact number, but sometimes we see three or four patients a day, so it’s been a lot since January.”
The exact strain is not known, but Linton says a round of antibiotics, most commonly penicillin, knocks it out. Strep will eventually go away on its own, but it can take a month or more. And leaving it untreated can cause serious complications like sinus or throat infections, an immune system meltdown, and even acute kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever.
“The complications can be significant if not treated, but of course, that doesn’t happen to everybody.”
A telltale sign of the bacteria is red and/or white splotches on the roof of the mouth and the back of the throat. But, Linton says, this particular bug is sneaky.
“This is pretty unusual. Sometimes it doesn’t look like strep throat, but then we do the test and they are positive.”
Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain but …
“Here’s the really interesting thing about strep: It can live somebody’s nose or throat without causing any symptoms or signs of illness at all,”says Michelle Rountree, a public health nurse in Haines.
Both Rountree and Linton agree that washing hands well, and often, is the best method of prevention. Also, if you have a sore throat, see a provider and then stay home to avoid spreading it around.
“If you have strep throat and you touch a surface and then I come along and touch that same surface, I’m not going to get strep throat. But if I’m talking to you and you sneeze or some people, when they speak, they spit a little bit, or if you share a water glass, or a water fountain … it’s droplet mediated, in that, that’s how it gets from person to person,” Rountree says.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported Thursday that an unusually high number of strep cases have been reported in Whitehorse in recent weeks. And Linton says she was working in Togiak, 70 miles west of Dillingham in western Alaska, in January and saw increased strep diagnoses there as well.
In Skagway, at the Dahl Memorial Clinic, a spokesperson said they haven’t had any strep diagnoses recently.
According to the State epidemiologist’s office, while strep is an infectious disease, it’s not one that is tracked statewide.
Strep symptoms usually subside within 24 to 48 hours if treated with antibiotics.