Strep throat is caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria. It is the most common bacterial infection of the throat.
Strep throat is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15, although it can happen in younger children and adults. Children younger than 3 can get strep infections, but these usually don't affect the throat.
Strep throat is most common in the late fall, winter, and early spring. The infection is spread by person-to-person contact with nasal secretions or saliva, often among family or household members.
There are many strains of strep. Some strains can lead to a scarlet fever rash. This rash is thought to be an allergic reaction to toxins made by the strep germ. On rare occasions, strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever if it is not treated. Strep throat may also cause a rare kidney complication.
Strep throat may be very mild, with only a few symptoms, or it may be severe. Often, persons with strep throat get sick 2 to 5 days after they are exposed to the bacteria that causes the illness.
Symptoms usually begin suddenly, and can include:
Some strains of strep throat can lead to a scarlet fever-like rash. This rash is thought to be an allergic reaction to toxins made by the strep bacteria.
A rapid test can be done in most health care provider offices, but misses a few of the cases. A throat swab can be tested (cultured) to see if strep grows from it. However, it will take one to two days for results to come back.
If the rapid test is negative, it may be followed by a culture, to find all the cases that might have been missed. This is more likely to be needed in children.
Be aware that most sore throats are caused by viruses, not strep. Sore throats should only be treated with antibiotics if the strep test is positive. Strep cannot be accurately diagnosed by symptoms or a physical exam alone.
Even though strep throat usually gets better on its own, antibiotics are taken to prevent rare but more serious complications, such as rheumatic fever.
Most sore throats are soon over. In the meantime, the following remedies may help:
The probable outcome is good. Nearly all symptoms resolve in one week. Treatment prevents serious complications associated with streptococcal infections.
On rare occasions, strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever if it is not treated. Strep throat may also cause a rare kidney complication called post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis.
Call if you develop the symptoms of strep throat, whether or not you think you were exposed to someone with strep throat. Also, call if you are being treated for strep throat and are not feeling better within 24 - 48 hours.
Most people with strep are contagious until they have been on antibiotics 24 - 48 hours. Thus, 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 you are no longer contagious, but before finishing the antibiotics. Otherwise the bacteria can live in 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.
Pharyngitis - streptococcal; Streptococcal pharyngitis