Strep throat is a disease that causes a sore throat (pharyngitis). It is an infection with a germ called Group A Streptococcus bacteria.
Causes of Strep throat
Strep throat is most common in children between ages 5 and 15, although anyone can get it.
Strep throat is spread by person-to-person contact with fluids from the nose or saliva. It commonly spreads among family or household members.
Strep throat Symptoms
Symptoms appear about 2 to 5 days after coming in contact with the strep germ. They may be mild or severe.
Common symptoms include:
- Fever that may begin suddenly and is often the highest on the second day
- Red, sore throat that may have white patches
- Pain when swallowing
- Swollen, tender neck glands
Other symptoms may include:
- General ill feeling
- A loss of appetite and abnormal sense of taste
Some strains of strep throat can lead to a scarlet fever-like rash. The rash first appears on the neck and chest. It may then spreads over the body. The rash may feel rough like sandpaper.
The same germ that causes strep throat may also cause symptoms of a sinus infection or an ear infection
Tests and Exams
Many other causes of sore throat may have the same symptoms. Your health care provider must do a test to diagnose strep throat and decide whether to prescribe antibiotics.
A rapid strep test can be done in most health care provider offices. However, the test may be negative, even if strep is present.
If the rapid strep test is negative and your health care provider still suspects that the strep bacteria is causing the sore throat, a throat swab can be tested (cultured) to see if strep grows from it. Results will take 1 to 2 days.
Treatment of Strep throat
Most sore throats are caused by viruses, not bacteria.
Sore throats should be treated with antibiotics only if the strep test is positive. Antibiotics are taken to prevent rare but more serious health problems, such as rheumatic fever.
The following tips may help your sore throat feel better:
- Drink warm liquids, such as lemon tea or tea with honey.
- Gargle several times a day with warm salt water (1/2 tsp of salt in 1 cup water).
- Drink cold liquids or suck on fruit-flavored ice pops.
- Suck on hard candies or throat lozenges. Young children should not be given these products because they can choke on them.
- A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier can moisten and soothe a dry and painful throat.
- Try over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen.
Symptoms of strep throat usually get better in about 1 week. Untreated, strep can lead to serious complications.
Other complications may include:
- Kidney disease caused by strep
- A skin condition in which small, red, and scaly teardrop-shaped spots appear on the arms, legs, and middle of the body, called guttate psoriasis
- Abscess in the area around the tonsils
- Rheumatic fever
- Scarlet fever
When to Contact a Health Professional
Call if you or your child develops the symptoms of strep throat. Also, call if symptoms do not get better within 24 - 48 hours of starting treatment.
Prevention of Strep throat
Most people with strep can spread the infection to others until they have been on antibiotics for 24 - 48 hours. They should stay home from school, daycare, or work until they have been on antibiotics for at least a day.
Get a new toothbrush after two or three days, but before finishing the antibiotics. Otherwise, the bacteria can live on the toothbrush and re-infect you when the antibiotics are done. Also, keep your family's toothbrushes and utensils separate, unless they have been washed.
If repeated cases of strep still occur in a family, you might check to see if someone is a strep carrier. Carriers have strep in their throats, but the bacteria do not make them sick. Sometimes, treating them can prevent others from getting strep throat.
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|Review Date: 2/4/2014
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.