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Strep Throat Again? Tonsils May Be Key

Removing Tonsils May Make Kids Less Likely to Get Strep Throat Again
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 7, 2006 -- Children who have their tonsils removed after having strep throat may be less likely to get strep throat again.

So say Mayo Clinic doctors including Laura Orvidas, MD.

Tonsillectomy (surgery to remove tonsils) may be a "useful therapy for treating children" with recurrent strep throat, write Orvidas and colleagues in Laryngology.

They note that strep throat is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood illnesses, sending about 18 million kids to doctors every year.

Tonsillectomy should reduce throat infections and "therefore diminish the number of missed school days and hopefully improve overall quality of life," Orvidas says in a Mayo Clinic news release.

Strep Throat Study

Orvidas and colleagues studied the medical records of 290 children aged 4-15.

The kids had had strep throat three or more times in a year while living in Olmstead County, Minn., from 1994 to 1998.

After their repeated bouts with strep throat, 145 kids got tonsillectomy. The other 145 children didn't undergo tonsillectomy.

The researchers didn't ask any of the kids to get tonsillectomy. Each family made its decision to get (or skip) tonsillectomy on its own.

Orvidas and colleagues checked the kids' medical records for the next four years, on average. During that time, the children who hadn't gotten tonsillectomy were three times more likely to get strep throat again before their 16th birthday.

They were also more likely to get strep throat sooner, and more often, than the children who got tonsillectomy.

Strep Throat Statistics

About half of the kids who got tonsillectomy had strep throat at least once -- four years after tonsillectomy but before turning 16 -- compared with 84% of those who didn't get tonsillectomy.

On average, strep throat returned about a year after tonsillectomy -- four months later than its average recurrence without tonsillectomy.

During the follow-up period, strep throat returned once, on average, after tonsillectomy, compared to nearly three times without tonsillectomy.

"Our study showed a low complication rate for tonsillectomy as well, with less than 2% of patients requiring a return to the operating room," the researchers write.

But surgery can have complications, so the researchers call for more studies to weigh tonsillectomy's risks and benefits in treating recurrent strep throat.

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