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Strep throat has come to Billings and is making its way through the school system. Don't let it make a home in your tonsils. Your whole body will thank you later.

Strep throat, technically known as Streptococcal pharyngitis, is a bacterial infection of the throat. It is spread by contact with infected respiratory droplets.

Symptoms include sore, patchy throat, red and enlarged tonsils with white spots, bad breath, fever and tender nodes in the neck. If you have any of these symptoms and you know you've been exposed, it is a good idea to have a doctor take a look and run a rapid strep test.

A positive strep test is typically followed by a round of antibiotics - and for good reason. Untreated strep can result in a spread of the infection into the blood. If toxins from the streptococcus bacteria get into the blood, it results in the development of scarlet fever and possibly rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever occurs when the antibodies that your immune system has made against streptococcus cross-react with your own tissues. Tissues most commonly affected include heart valves, joints and skin, and the result could be inflammation of the heart that could lead to congestive heart failure, migrating arthritis, a long-lasting rash that is worse with heat, and uncontrollable, rapid movements of the face and arms. Finally, under-treated strep throat can result in a kidney condition called glomerulonephritis, where the kidneys become damaged and spill blood and/or protein into the urine. Glomerulonephritis can resolve on its own within two weeks, or it can progress and result in kidney failure.

The good news is that you can take steps to prevent the infection. If you know you have been exposed, be sure to wash your hands frequently. Boost your immune system by eating garlic, mushrooms and foods that are high in vitamin C and zinc. Consider saltwater gargles at the first sign of a sore throat. There are also many botanical medicines and supplements that boost immune function and can prevent strep throat or any other bacteria or virus that might try to make you sick this fall. However, it is important that you are tested for strep if you have signs of infection to avoid the consequences of under-treatment.

If you have been diagnosed with strep throat and you are taking antibiotics, there are some additional things you should know. It is important to take the full prescription of the antibiotics to prevent the development of a strain of streptococcus that is resistant to the antibiotic. It is also a good idea to take probiotics. These are also known as Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifida. Probiotics replenish the beneficial bacteria in your intestines that are killed by the antibiotic. Decreased numbers of beneficial bacteria in your gut results in the disruption of the protective barrier they provide and allows the nonbeneficial bacteria to overgrow. This can result in diarrhea, multiple food sensitivities, gas, joint pain, hormone metabolism disturbance and skin problems. Probiotics are found in cultured or fermented foods, which include yogurt, buttermilk and sauerkraut. It can also be supplemented in pill, powder or liquid forms. Be sure to take the probiotics at a different time of the day than the antibiotic.

Strep throat is a common infection, especially this time of year. It is easy to treat, and the negative sequelae are typically rare. But preventing the infection is the best way to eliminate your chances of rheumatic fever or glomerulonephritis. Even better, it will spare you a sore throat and sick time.

Dr. Christina Amicone is a resident physician in naturopathic medicine at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic and St. Vincent's Cancer Care. She can be reached at 259-5096. Send naturopathic health questions to ync@180.com.net.

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