Strep Throat? Don’t Toss The Toothbrush

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Parents often toss their child’s toothbrush after a bout of strep throat, but new research indicates that’s probably a waste of good bristles.

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To test whether the recommendation is needless, Dr. Judith Rowen, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and her colleagues grew the bacteria that causes strep throat, called group A Streptococcus, on toothbrushes that were unused by kids but were exposed to the bacteria in the laboratory. For 48 hours the bacteria grew on the brushes in the lab.

The investigators then studied the toothbrushes used by 14 kids with strep throat to see if the bacteria would also grow on their brushes. The children brushed their teeth for a minute before the researchers put their brushes into a sterile environment to watch for potential bacteria growth.

The researchers compared the bacteria growth on these toothbrushes to brushes used by 13 patients who had sore throats, but not strep, and toothbrushes used by 27 healthy participants ages 2 to 20.

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Although the toothbrushes all grew common mouth bacteria, the strep bacteria only grew on one of the toothbrushes, and it was from a participant who did not have strep throat. “This study supports that it is probably unnecessary to throw away your toothbrush after a diagnosis of strep throat,” said Rowen in a statement.

The results call for more research into whether disposing of toothbrushes is really a necessary step to prevent the spread of the sickness. Using antibiotics like penicillin remain a clinically recommended treatment method, as well as taking medication for pain relief. These may be more important methods in preventing transmission and getting healthy faster.

The findings were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, D.C.