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Strep throat

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Strep throat is caused by a bacteria called streptococcus pyogenes.
  • Strep throat can cause a sore throat, fever, fatigue and a sore neck.
  • Your doctor may take a throat swab to diagnose strep throat.
  • Strep throat can cause complications such as rheumatic fever and scarlet fever.
  • If you are at risk of complications, your doctor may give you antibiotics to treat strep throat.

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is a contagious infection of the throat. It’s common in school-age children aged 5 to 10 years.

What causes strep throat?

Most sore throats are caused by viruses, but some are caused by bacteria called streptococcus pyogenes.

Streptococcus pyogenes can be spread from person to person very easily. You can catch strep throat through contact with droplets, which are made when an infected person:

  • talks
  • coughs
  • sneezes

What are the symptoms of strep throat?

The symptoms of a strep throat infection last around 7 days. They may include:

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have symptoms of strep throat, visit your doctor. They can:

  • diagnose your condition
  • provide treatment
  • help you manage symptoms

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is strep throat diagnosed?

To diagnose strep throat, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine your throat.

If you have symptoms of strep throat, they may take a sample from your throat. They can do this by rubbing a cotton swab against the back of your throat.

The sample will be tested in a lab, to see the cause of your sore throat. Knowing what is causing your sore throat means your doctor can give you the best treatment.

To help diagnose some complications that strep throat might cause, your doctor may also order a blood test.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is strep throat treated?

Treatment for strep throat depends on your risk of complications, and how bad your symptoms are.

People at risk of strep throat complications include those who are younger than 40 years, and are:

  • an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person
  • living, travelling or working with a person who has recently had rheumatic fever or rheumatic heart disease
  • living, travelling or working in an area with a high rate of rheumatic fever
  • living in overcrowded or disadvantaged settings

Risk is especially high in people aged 5 to 25 years old.

Antibiotics for strep throat

If you have severe strep throat symptoms or a high risk of complications, your doctor may give you antibiotics.

Depending on the antibiotic, you may need to take the treatment for 5 to 10 days.

When taking antibiotics, it’s important to take all your prescribed medicine, even after the symptoms have gone away. This makes sure your infection does not come back.

If you take antibiotics, you will stop being contagious after about 24 hours. Your symptoms should also get better a day sooner than if you did not receive treatment.

If your symptoms are manageable and you are not at high risk of complications, you will not need antibiotics.

There are other things you can do to look after yourself are home.

Managing strep throat at home

If you have a strep throat, there are different ways that might help ease your symptoms.

Make sure you have enough fluids by drinking water, soup and cold drinks.

If eating hurts your throat, don't force yourself to eat solid food. When you are able to eat, choose soft, healthy food . Proper nutrition can help your body fight the infection.

You can also:

  • gargle with salt water
  • suck on lozenges or ice cubes
  • avoid talking to rest your voice
  • put warm packs or compresses on your neck
  • avoid smoking and breathing second-hand smoke

If you have a fever, rest and limit your activities until the fever is gone.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can take paracetamol, or ibuprofen to reduce your fever and to relieve pain.

How to prevent the spread of strep throat

The following suggestions may help you prevent the spread of your strep infection to others:

  • Avoid contact with other people until you have been taking treatment for at least 24 hours or until you feel well.
  • Wash your hands before you touch food, dishes, glasses or cutlery.
  • Use tissues when you cough or sneeze, dispose of them carefully, and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Do not share food and eating utensils with others.
  • Do not prepare food for others if you have strep throat.

People with strep throat should not go to childcare, preschool, school or work until they are no longer contagious.

Complications of strep throat

If it’s not treated, strep throat can lead to complications including:

You should see your doctor if you have symptoms of strep throat, and:

Resources and support

If you need to know more about strep throat or need advice on what to do next, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse, 24 hours, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2023

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