What is Strep Throat?

Typically, sore throats are caused by a viral infection. A sore throat caused by a cold can be as painful as one caused by strep.

Strep throat is caused by streptococcal bacteria, which causes an infection in the throat and tonsils. The throat gets irritated and inflamed, causing a sudden, severe sore throat. Strep throat is usually not associated with cold symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, or a runny or stuffy nose.

The most common symptoms are the sore throat; fever over 101 degrees; pain when you swallow; white or yellow spots on the back of a bright red throat; and swollen painful glands in the neck. Headache and belly ache also sometimes occur. A red skin rash, not feeling hungry, body aches and vomiting are less common.

Strep throat can be passed from person to person. When a person who has strep throat breathes, coughs, or sneezes, tiny droplets with the strep bacteria go into the air. If you come into contact with strep, it will take 2-5 days before you have symptoms.

A doctor may do a rapid strep test (throat swab) to diagnose strep throat. Sometimes a throat culture is needed if the rapid strep test is negative but symptoms suggest otherwise. Patients with strep are given antibiotics, which shorten the time to be able to spread the disease to others and lower the risk of spreading the infection to other parts of the body. Antibiotics can prevent some rare complications from strep. Symptoms usually resolve within five days if not treated with antibiotics.

Most people stop being contagious 24 hours after they start antibiotics. If patients do not take antibiotics, they may be contagious for 2 to 3 weeks, even if symptoms go away.

A doctor may recommend over-the-counter medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with pain and lower fever.

Prevent getting strep throat by avoiding contact with anyone who has a strep infection. If you are around someone who has strep, wash your hands often, don’t drink from the same glass or use the same eating utensils, and don’t share toothbrushes. Because bacteria can live for a short time on doorknobs, water faucets, and other objects, practice good hand washing.

If you have a strep infection, use tissues when you sneeze or cough, wash your hands often, and do not sneeze or cough on others.

By Jennifer Steinhoff, MD, ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca.