Strep throat

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is a bacterial infection in the throat and tonsils caused by the bacteria Group A beta-hemolytic Streptococcus (commonly abbreviated GABHS). These bacteria are found in the nose and throat, making strep throat highly contagious. It is most common for someone to become infected with strep throat when they:

  • Breathe the bacteria in
  • Touch a surface covered in the bacteria followed by touching one’s nose or mouth (including kissing)
  • Share eating utensils/dishware/food that has the bacteria on it

 

What are the symptoms of strep throat?

More common in children than in adults, strep throat often causes pain when swallowing and inflammation and soreness of the throat. In general, someone infected with strep throat will begin showing some (but not necessarily all) of the following symptoms two to five days after exposure to the bacteria:

  • Sudden soreness in the throat
  • Difficulty and/or pain when swallowing
  • Fever and/or chills
  • Tonsils that appear red and/or swollen, sometimes with white spots
  • Swollen, tender lymph nodes in the neck
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or stomach pain
  • Body aches
  • Petechiae, which are small discolored spots, on the roof of the mouth
  • A blotchy red rash on the skin that becomes fine and rough like sandpaper (if the rash present, the GABHS infection is typically called scarlet fever or scarlatina)

Sore throats caused by viral agents are commonly mistaken for strep throat. Statistically, most sore throats are viral. If you have any of the following symptoms listed below in conjunction with the ones listed above, it is likely your illness is viral, which means that antibiotics will neither improve the symptoms or shorten the course of the illness:

  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Raspy voice (laryngitis)

If you do believe you have strep throat, it is important to visit a medical professional to get tested, as treatment can reduce further complications. Potential complications of strep throat include peritonsillar abscess, rheumatic fever, kidney disorders, and infections of the sinuses and ears.

 

How is strep throat diagnosed?

An on-site Rapid Antigen Detection Test (10-minute strep test) may be used to diagnosis strep in unclear cases or to confirm the diagnosis. In order to do the rapid strep test, a nurse or physician will swab your throat and tonsils to collect a sample of saliva for testing. If the test is negative, a throat culture may be ordered as a back-up test. The throat culture is sent to an outside lab and the results return in 2 to 3 days.

 

How is strep throat prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent strep throat. Additionally, getting strep throat once does not lead to immunity; in fact, it is common to get it multiple times. However, you can avoid strep throat by staying away from those who are infected and practicing proper hygiene. Remember to wash your hands often with soap and warm water, especially if you are interacting with others who have strep throat. If you cannot wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Also, be sure to wash all dishware used by someone who is infected before someone else uses it.

If you are the one who is sick, try to avoid contact with others until you haven been treated for 24 hours, and avoid touching your mouth or nose prior to touching another surface, as this will help prevent the spread of the droplets that contain the bacteria and protect those around you. Do not share items such as food, utensils with others. If you do happen to cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue. If tissues are not available, cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than into your hands. Finally, be sure to wash your hands regularly.

 

How is strep throat treated?

Strep throat is preferably treated with oral antibiotics - usually amoxicillin. Children with strep throat should take a full 24-hour day of doses of the medication and be fever-free before returning to school. Be sure to follow your physician’s instructions regarding the prescription. Even if the symptoms fade, be sure to still take all of the medication as directed, as the full-course has been shown to prevent rheumatic fever.

If you come into Patient First and are diagnosed with strep throat, we can provide your prescription medication on-site, which saves you a trip to the drugstore after your visit and speeds up recovery.

For symptom relief, ibuprofen or acetaminophen are recommended. Children under 6 years old should not be given OTC cough and cold medicines, unless recommended by a physician. Oral analgesic spray or lozenges can also be used to help relieve pain and discomfort.

For more ideas on how to soothe your throat soreness, read our blog: 6 Ways to Soothe a Sore Throat.