Just about any painful sore throat is caused by strep.
Not all painful sore throats are caused by strep. Most sore throats are caused by viruses. Strep throat is caused by streptococcal (strep) bacteria. There are many different types of strep bacteria. Streptococcus, or strep, is the most frequently found bacterial cause of sore throat. Mycoplasma, Neisseria, Corynebacterium, Yersinia, and non-Group A Strep bacteria are some of the other bacterial causes of throat infection.
Some reports suggest that over 600 million cases of strep throat occur annually worldwide.
Symptoms of strep throat often mimic the symptoms of a bad cold.
Cold symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, or a runny/stuffy nose usually indicate that strep throat is not present.
Throat infection with strep bacteria can cause a variety of symptoms associated with inflammation of the throat and its nearby structures.The most common symptoms of strep throat are:
- Sudden, severe sore throat
- Swollen, tender lymph nodes on the sides of the neck
- Painful swallowing (odynophagia)
- White or yellow patches seen on the tonsils and throat (tonsillar exudates)
Other possible symptoms also include headache and belly pain. Less common symptoms are a red skin rash, vomiting, and body aches.
Is strep throat contagious?
Strep throat is highly contagious.
How do you get strep throat? The most common way to catch the disease is by close contact with an infected person. Specifically, close contact with airborne droplets of an infected individual is the most common way of acquiring Streptococcus infection. The risk of being contagious with strep throat diminishes substantially after proper treatment with antibiotics is initiated.
It is also possible that bacteria may be present without causing an infection. A person may be a carrier of the bacteria but not infected.
Which places are most likely to have conditions that facilitate the spread of strep bacteria?
Close contact with airborne droplets of an infected individual is the most common way of catching Streptococcus infection. Close quarters such as college dormitories, day care centers, military facilities, gyms, schools, and families provide ideal conditions for transmission of strep throat from one person to another. The risk of acquiring strep throat from an affected family member nears 40%.
Strep infection is treated with antibiotics.
If strep throat is detected, it must be treated adequately with antibiotics.
Streptococcus is highly responsive to penicillin and the cephalosporin antibiotics. Penicillin is effective, reliable, and inexpensive. Other penicillin derivatives such as amoxicillin, amoxicillin-clavulanate, cloxacillin, and dicloxacillin are all treatments that can get rid of strep throat.
Note: It is important to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if the symptoms resolve. Prematurely discontinuing antibiotics can result in the infection being inadequately treated, with potentially adverse consequences or relapse of the infection.
Strep throat is easily diagnosed.
Strep throat is easily diagnosed with a throat culture, the gold standard in diagnosing strep throat infection. A throat culture involves touching a cotton swab to the throat and tonsil area. Rapid strep tests (also called the Rapid Antigen Detection Test or RADT) are available that can give results in minutes.
____________________ is a rare but serious complication of strep throat.
What is rheumatic fever (acute rheumatic fever or ARF)?
It's an autoimmune disease that may occur after a group A streptococcal throat infection that causes inflammatory lesions in connective tissue, especially that of the heart, joints, blood vessels, and subcutaneous tissue. Prior to the broad availability of penicillin, rheumatic fever was a leading cause of death in children and one of the leading causes of acquired heart disease in adults.
Serious kidney disease that may result in kidney failure may also be a complication of streptococcal infection.
Strep bacteria is also known as the dreaded "flesh-eating bacteria."
The commonly known strep throat is due to only one member of the Streptococcus family of bacteria. This certain Streptococcus (Streptococcus pyogenes) belongs to the group A Streptococcus bacteria (GAS for short).
This group of bacteria is also known to cause the flesh-eating bacterial infection called necrotizing fasciitis. GAS also causes a variety of other health problems such as: impetigo, soft tissue infections, rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, puerperal fever (fever after a pregnant female delivers); lung infections such as pneumonia; cellulitis, wound infections, bone infections, sinusitis, meningitis, and toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
People get strep throat because they have not been vaccinated against it.
Currently, there are no vaccines available against group A Streptococcus bacteria. However, simple steps can be taken in order to limit the spread of strep throat. Strep throat can best be prevented by:
- Covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing
- Washing hands frequently
- Frequently washing dishes and utensils used by the infected individual
- Separating dishes, utensils, and other household items used by the infected person
- Avoiding sharing food or drinks with the infected individual
Tonsils serve no purpose.
The tonsils are red, oval clumps of tissue located at the back and to the sides of the throat. This location allows the tonsils to intercept germs as they enter the body through the nose and throat. They contain infection-fighting cells and antibodies (infection-fighting proteins in the body) that stop the spread of the germs further into the body.
Commonly seen in cases of strep throat, tonsillitis refers to conditions in which the tonsils become red, sore, and swollen because of inflammation. This is not a specific term, as there are many causes of inflammation of the tonsils.
Note: Surgical removal of the tonsils is much less common today thanks to the present ability to rapidly and accurately diagnose strep infection, and thanks to the excellent antibiotics currently available.
Left untreated, the body will likely clear strep throat on its own.
If untreated, the body will generally clear the infection within 2-5 days, and this is the usual course of the illness.
Still, as mentioned earlier, untreated strep throat can cause possible and serious complications to develop. These complications can include: rheumatic fever, otitis media (spread of the infection to the middle ear); meningitis, pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome (TSS), and abscess formation.
It is thought that if the strep throat infection is untreated or inadequately treated by antibiotics, the bacteria remain in the tonsils and promote a persistent immune response from the body.
Images provided by:
NIAID: Strep Throat.
CDC. Strep Throat.
American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. Sore Throat.
USNLM MedlinePlus Encyclopedia: Rheumatic Fever.
USNLM-NIH: Invasive Strep Infections and ‘The Flesh-eating Disease.'
PubMed: Tonsillitis and Sore Throat in Children. GMS Curr Top Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014; 13: Doc07. Published online 2014 Dec 1
Amoxil®, Augmentin®, and Augmentin XR® are registered trademarks of GlaxoSmithKline.
DisperMox® is a registered trademark of Sandoz Pharmaceuticals.
Trimox® is a registered trademark of Apothecon, Inc.
This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information:
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the eMedicineHealth Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
© 1996-2019 MedicineNet, Inc. All rights reserved.