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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Strep, COVID-19 cases increase on campus

Students can get tested for strep throat at Campus Health by scheduling an online appointment, accessing the 24/7 virtual urgent care or at any local outpatient urgent care center. (Yubin Lee)

After the recent surge in COVID-19 cases earlier this semester, Tulane University Campus Health officials are now seeing an increase in strep throat cases on campus.

“We have seen an increase in both COVID-19 and strep cases on campus with the start of the fall semester,” Dr. Victoria Valencia, the interim medical director of Campus Health, said. “In the pre-COVID-19 years we saw a similar situation with flu and strep in the fall semester.” 

Due to the overlapping symptoms of strep and COVID-19, distinguishing the differences can be difficult for students. In contrast to strep, COVID-19 is a respiratory infection that circulates through the air and does not require direct contact between two people to propagate infection.

According to Patricia Kissinger, a professor who has a doctorate in infectious disease epidemiology and is also associate dean of faculty affairs and development, COVID-19 is “aerosolized and is far more infectious, because you just have to breathe on somebody.”

When trying to discriminate between COVID-19 and strep symptoms, “cough, which is usually present in COVID-19 infections, tends to be absent in patients with streptococcal infections,” Valencia said. 

Strep throat is contracted directly via respiratory droplets that the infected person spreads when sneezing, talking or coughing, which are then breathed in, touched or accidentally ingested by others. 

“Strep throat is infectious; it’s caused by direct contact of the mucous membrane,” Kissinger said. “Somebody sharing food, kissing or sharing any kind of thing that enters your mouth, can transmit it that way.” 

Being mindful to not share utensils, drinks and other objects can help reduce your risk of exposure and to “keep a good distance when people are talking,” Brandt Beebe, a certified medical assistant at the Rapid Urgent Care in Metairie, said. “I would definitely say to mask yourself.” As masking rates increase, there tends to be a reduction in strep throat infections due to preventative measures that decrease contact between individuals.  

Because minimizing exposure to strep can prove difficult in such high-density areas, professors say that medication is key to keeping cases low.

“If [patients] don’t get on medicine, they can be infectious for three weeks,” Kissinger said. “So even though they don’t have any symptoms, they may still be spreading it.” 

Asymptomatic cases of strep throat are also contagious. When treated with antibiotics, however, patients are no longer contagious after around 48 hours of continued antibiotic use, though they must finish the full cycle in order to kill off the infection. 

“After a few days of standard antibiotics I felt so much better,” junior Sam Bialecki said. “My sore throat went away and I had my strength back.” 

Typical symptoms to look out for usually include “fever, body aches, pain when swallowing, red and swollen tonsils, white patches on tonsils, tiny red spots in the roof of the mouth, swollen nodes in the front of the neck area, headache,” Valencia said.

While both infections may present with a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and even facial pressure, students who have strep or COVID-19 should be on the alert for a persistent cough. Regardless, many providers are testing for both strep and COVID-19 at this time of year, given the amount of overlap between symptoms.  

Students can get tested for strep throat at Campus Health by scheduling an online appointment here, accessing the 24/7 virtual urgent care offered through Tulane here or at any local outpatient urgent care center around campus — list found here

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