Strep infection

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is caused by an infection from the strep bacteria. It is most common in children and the most common symptom is a sore throat. Strep bacteria is responsible for only a small amount of all sore throats.

If you or your child are experiencing symptoms of strep throat it is important to visit a doctor. Untreated strep infections can lead to serious complications.  

How does a strep infection occur?

Strep throat comes from the streptococcus (strep) bacteria. The two types of strep bacteria are referred to as group A and group B streptococcus. Group A streptococcus causes strep throat. 

Symptoms of strep throat

Common symptoms include

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Red/swollen tonsils
  • Painful/swollen neck glands
  • Lack of cough

Additional symptoms of strep can appear within a few days and may include

  • Red/white patches in the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Headache
  • Lower stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Rash

Are my symptoms strep throat?

Many symptoms of strep throat are similar to symptoms of viral infections that do not require antibiotic medication.

Symptoms that should be checked by a doctor

  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing/swallowing
  • A sore throat with tender/swollen lymph glands
  • A sore throat and a rash
  • A sore throat that lasts longer than 48 hours

If you have been diagnosed with strep and your symptoms do not begin to improve after 48 hours, revisit your doctor.

Diagnosing strep throat

Your doctor will examine you for symptoms and determine if any tests are necessary. If a strep infection is suspected, your doctor may perform a rapid strep test.

doctor getting throat culture

Rapid strep test

Also known as a rapid antigen test, this exam can quickly determine if you are carrying strep bacteria. During a rapid strep test your doctor will swab your throat using a cotton swab. The test takes about 5 minutes. If the test is positive, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to treat your strep infection.

Throat culture

If the rapid strep test comes back negative, the throat swab will be sent to the lab to be cultured. It may take a couple days to receive the results of a throat culture.

Is strep throat contagious?

Strep throat is extremely contagious.

Strep throat can be easily spread by

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Shaking hands

The infection is most likely to be spread when symptoms are severe and untreated.

Prevent the spread of strep throat

Many things can help prevent the spread of strep throat.

  • Cover all sneezes and coughs.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Do not share food or drinks.

Be sure to thoroughly wash any shared glasses, plates, and silverware. 

Treating strep throat

Most likely, your doctor will prescribe an oral antibiotic if you have a strep infection. The sooner an antibiotic is taken, the greater effect it will have on lessening the duration and severity of symptoms.

Antibiotics should start making you feel better within one to two days. Typically, you will no longer be contagious 24 hours after beginning antibiotics. If your child is no longer contagious, no longer has a fever, and is feeling well, they can return to school.

Ways to ease strep throat symptoms

Over-the-counter medication

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Tylenol and ibuprofen, can help eliminate throat pain and reduce fever.

Rest

Get plenty of rest. Sleep is one of the best ways to help your body fight infection.

Fluids

Prevent dehydration by drinking lots of water. Acidic beverages like fruit juices, coffee, and some sodas can irritate the throat. Warm beverages, such as tea, can be soothing.

Last reviewed: 
January 2019
Alternative Names: 
Strep throat

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