“Strep throat” is a sore throat that is caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria. It’s the most common bacterial infection of the throat, and the words “Strep Throat” (or “strep”) come from the name of the bacteria.
How does someone get strep throat?
“Strep” bacteria are contagious, and they spread through airborne droplets.
You can get strep by:
- Breathing in the airborne droplets when someone who has it breaths, coughs, or sneezes near you
- Sharing food/drinks, shaking hands with, or kissing someone who has strep
- You can also pick up the bacteria by touching an object (such as a doorknob) after it has been contaminated by someone who has strep and then touching your mouth or nose
What are the symptoms of strep throat?
The most common symptoms of strep throat include:
- Sore throat
- Fever of 100.4°F or 38°C or higher
- Trouble swallowing
- Swollen, red tonsils (the tonsils may also have white patches)
- Swollen glands (lymph nodes in your neck)
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
Less common symptoms include: skin rash, body aches, not feeling hungry, stomach ache, and throwing up. Having a runny nose or cold symptoms makes it unlikely you have strep throat.
How can my health care provider (HCP) tell if I have strep throat?
First, your HCP will look for signs and symptoms of strep throat, sore throat, swollen glands, and no runny nose or cold symptoms. He/she will likely ask you to open your mouth as wide as you can (and say “ahh”), then use a tongue depressor (an instrument that looks like a popsicle stick and is used to push your tongue down) to get a good look at your throat and your tonsils. Your HCP will feel your neck to check for swollen lymph nodes and may take your temperature to see if you have a fever.
Throat culture – Your HCP will also gently rub a sterile cotton swab over the back of your throat and tonsils. This doesn’t take long and isn’t painful, but it may cause you to gag for a second. The purpose of the swab is to get a sample that will be tested for strep bacteria.
After swabbing your throat, your HCP will do a rapid strep test. This test can detect strep bacteria within minutes. If the test is positive, your HCP will prescribe treatment right away. If the test is negative, a sample will be sent to a lab for more testing, because rapid strep tests may miss some strep infections.
What is the treatment for strep throat?
If you’ve tested positive for strep throat, your HCP will give you a prescription for antibiotics (usually penicillin, unless you’re allergic). The medicine will help lessen your symptoms and lower the chance of any complications. You can return to school and work after you have been on the medicine for 24 hours.
Even though you will start feeling better within a day or two of starting the antibiotics, it’s extremely important that you take ALL of the medicine your HCP prescribed for you. If you stop taking the medicine early, the strep could come back.
Other things you can do to feel better when you have strep throat include:
- Drink lots of fluids – cool liquids such as water and ginger ale can help. Sucking on an ice pop and drinking warm liquid such as soup and decaffeinated tea are good too.
- Rest – take naps and go to bed early
- Gargle with salt-water but don’t swallow
- Try throat lozenges
- Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Ask your health care provider how much you should take.
Is there anything I can do to prevent getting strep throat?
Yes. Avoid being around anyone who has strep. If you’re living with someone who has a strep infection, wash your hands often, and don’t share drinking glasses, eating utensils, or toothbrushes.
It’s also important to prevent re-infecting yourself. If you have strep, make sure to get a new toothbrush. Buy a new toothbrush (throw the old one away) when you have been on antibiotics for 2-3 days to lower your chance of getting re-infected. Otherwise it’s possible for the bacteria to live in the toothbrush and make you sick again once you’ve finished your medicine.