What Is Strep Throat?
Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus (group A strep).
What Are Symptoms of Strep Throat?
Symptoms of strep throat include:
- Sore throat that may come on quickly
- Pain when swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils
- White patches or streaks of pus on the tonsils
- Tiny, red spots on the roof of the mouth
- Swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck
- Stomach pain
- Rash (scarlet fever)
What Causes Strep Throat?
Viruses cause most cases of sore throat, but strep throat is caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep).
Is Strep Throat Contagious?
Group A strep live in the nose and throat and can be contagious. When a person who has strep throat coughs or sneezes, they release respiratory droplets into the air that contain the bacteria. It typically takes two to five days after exposure to group A strep to develop symptoms.
Strep can be transmitted when people:
- Inhale respiratory droplets released after an infected person coughs or sneezes
- Touch something with droplets on it and then touch their mouth or nose
- Share glasses, plates, or utensils with an infected person
- Touch sores on the skin caused by group A strep (impetigo)
- Eat food improperly handled food (rare)
Patients are generally considered no longer contagious after 24 hours of antibiotic therapy. However, if untreated, strep throat remains contagious for about 2-3 weeks.
How Is Strep Throat Diagnosed?
Strep throat is diagnosed with:
- A rapid strep test: This involves swabbing the throat and running a test on the swab to see if strep bacteria are present in the patient’s throat. Results are usually available in about 15 minutes.
- A throat culture: In some cases, the rapid strep test results are negative but a doctor may still suspect strep infection is present. In this case, a throat culture swab may be obtained. This test can take 2-3 days to yield results but it is more accurate than a rapid strep test.
What Is the Treatment for Strep Throat?
Strep throat is treated with antibiotics. The first line choices are usually penicillin or amoxicillin. Other antibiotics may be used in people allergic to penicillin.
If antibiotics are prescribed, take the entire dose as prescribed, even if you feel better before you have finished all the medication.
If a person tests positive for strep throat but has no symptoms (is a “carrier”) treatment is usually not needed.
How Do You Prevent Strep Throat?
People can have strep throat more than once. In some cases, strep throat may be prevented by:
- Washing hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your upper arm or elbow, not your hands, if you don’t have a tissue (discard used tissues immediately)
- Wash glasses, utensils, and plates thoroughly after someone who is infected uses them
If you have strep throat:
- Stay home from work or school until you no longer have a fever and you have taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours
- Take the full course of antibiotics exactly as prescribed
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