Strep throat (patient information)
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Strep throat On the Web
Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. ; Assistant Editor(s)-in-Chief: Ethan Leeman
Strep Throat, scientifically known as Streptococcal pharyngitis or streptococcal sore throat is a group A streptococcal infection that affects the pharynx and sometimes the larynx. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, and enlarged lymph nodes. It is spread through close contact with an infected individual. Diagnosis can be done by a throat culture, but often can be done based on symptoms alone. Antibiotics are often used to prevent complications and speed recovery. Strep throat most commonly afflicts child between the ages of 5 and 15, although anyone can develop strep. Younger children often do not have throat symptoms.
What are the symptoms of Strep throat?
Symptoms of Strep throat can be very mild or severe. Symptoms usually develop 2 to 5 days after being exposed to the bacteria. Symptoms tend occur suddenly, and usually include some of the following:
- Sudden fever
- Red throat, sometimes having white patches
- Sore throat
- Stomach ache
- General discomfort, malaise
- Loss of appetite, abnormal taste
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Trouble swallowing
- Scarlet fever-like rash. This occurs in only some strains of the bacteria.
Who is at highest risk?
Strep throat is spread by person-to-person contact of nasal secretions or saliva. As a result, strep throat is most prominent during flu season, around the winter. People with strep are contagious for 24-48 hours after starting antibiotics, and should not go to school or work.
To prevent spreading the illness to others, anyone with strep should practice good hand washing, especially if preparing food for others. One should also get a toothbrush, and start using it after no longer being contagious but before finishing antibiotics. Bacteria can stay on the toothbrush and pose a risk of reinfection.
Let your doctor know of your sympt. He may ask do a rapid test which gives results quickly but is less accurate, or a throat culture, an easy test that just requires a throat swab and takes 1-2 days for results.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics without doing any tests if your symptoms strongly indicate strep throat. It is very important that you take your antibiotics for the full duration it was prescribed. Antibiotics are more to prevent more serious complications, such as rheumatic fever, than to recover some strep throat. As a result, treatment must be continued for the full duration (~10 days), even when symptoms are gone.
To treat the symptoms of a sore throat, simple methods can be quite effective:
- Drinking warm liquids, like tea.
- Gargling warm salt water several times a day (1/2 tsp salt in 1 cup water)
- Drinking cold liquids or eating cold food (such as a Popsicle) to soothe the throat.
- Sucking on throat lozenges. Poses a choking hazard for children.
- Using a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier to moisten a dry throat.
- Using over-the-counter medicine. Aspirin should not be given to children.
Diseases with similar symptoms
The common cold is often confused for strep throat. Symptoms of a cold that are not symptoms of strep throat are:
- Runny nose
- Stuffy ears
Antibiotics will do nothing for a cold-caused sore throat, and should not be taken.
Where to find medical care for Strep throat?
Directions to Hospitals Treating Strep Throat